WBEZ | California http://www.wbez.org/tags/california Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Despite the drought, California farms see record sales http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/gettyimages-471006602-99705b6d250521f4014e8c84f29849326d342a59-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>While prolonged drought has put a strain on California agriculture, most of the state&#39;s farms, it seems, aren&#39;t just surviving it: They are prospering.</p><p>The environment, though, that&#39;s another story. We&#39;ll get to that.</p><p>But first, the prosperity. According to new&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/farm-income-and-wealth-statistics/annual-cash-receipts-by-commodity.aspx#P892cc423657a499584e30a89895d0f4d_2_16iT0R0x5">figures</a>&nbsp;from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2014, the year the drought really hit, California&#39;s farmers sold $54 billion worth of crops like almonds or grapes, and animal products like milk.</p><p>That&#39;s an all-time record, up 5 percent over the previous year, and an increase of 20 percent from 2012.</p><p>If you&#39;re surprised by this, you haven&#39;t been paying close attention, says&nbsp;<a href="http://are.ucdavis.edu/en/people/faculty/daniel-sumner/#pk_campaign=short-name-redirect&amp;pk_kwd=sumner">Daniel Sumner</a>, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. It&#39;s been clear for some time, he says, that California&#39;s farmers did very well last year.</p><p>There are two keys to the record-breaking revenues. The first is prices. &quot;You have all-time high prices over the whole range of crops,&quot; says Richard Howitt, another economist at UC Davis.</p><p>Second, even though farmers didn&#39;t get their normal supply of water from rivers and reservoirs, they pumped it from underground aquifers instead. According to a&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/DroughtReport_23July2014_0.pdf">report</a>&nbsp;that Sumner and Howitt co-authored last year, farmers in 2014 replaced about 75 percent of their surface water deficit by draining their groundwater reserves.</p><p>James McFarlane, who grows almonds and citrus near Fresno, is one of those farmers. He says that drought has been &quot;beyond terrible&quot; for some farmers. But for him personally? &quot;It&#39;s been a good year. We&#39;ve been able to make some money, and you have to just count your blessings and call that a good year,&quot; he says.</p><p>McFarlane has received some irrigation water from Kings River, via the Fresno Irrigation District, but he is also pumping water from his wells. &quot;If it weren&#39;t for the wells, we couldn&#39;t have made it work,&quot; he says.</p><p>Howitt says that there are two contrasting realities in California agriculture these days. &quot;Some people just don&#39;t have the underground water. You meet these people and they really are in poor shape,&quot; he says. But where there is water, &quot;you have investors pouring money into planting these almond trees at a rate that they&#39;ve never seen before.&quot;</p><p>But this is also where the environmental damage comes in. Those underground reserves are getting depleted, wells are going dry, and in many locations, the land is sinking as water is drawn out. When this happens, it permanently reduces the soil&#39;s ability to absorb and store water in the future.</p><p>California has enacted new rules that eventually should stop farmers from pumping so much groundwater, but for now, it continues. This year, California&#39;s farmers are still pumping enough groundwater to replace about 70 percent of the shortfall in surface water, according to a new UC Davis&nbsp;<a href="https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/files/biblio/Final_Drought%20Report_08182015_Full_Report_WithAppendices.pdf">report</a>.</p><p>Such massive use of groundwater can&#39;t continue forever, and high commodity prices probably won&#39;t, either. Milk prices already have fallen, and if China stops buying so much of California&#39;s nut production, those prices may crash as well.</p><p>On the good side, though, maybe rain and snow will return, filling the reservoirs again.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/27/434649587/despite-the-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales?ft=nprml&amp;f=434649587" target="_blank"><em>NPR&#39;s The Salt</em></a></p></p> Thu, 27 Aug 2015 05:08:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/water/despite-drought-california-farms-see-record-sales-112741 Gay journalist battles Boy Scouts in court for 18 years http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/gay-journalist-battles-boy-scouts-court-18-years-110793 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/StoryCorps 140905 Noel Tim bh.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Growing up in Berkeley, California in the 1970s, Tim Curran loved camping. When his best friend joined the Boy Scouts, Curran signed up too. He rose up through the ranks, achieving scouting&rsquo;s highest honor, Eagle Scout, during high school.</p><p>Curran, who is gay, came out when he was a teenager. His troop was supportive of him. But after his senior year, he was featured in a newspaper story with his prom date, who was also male. And the newspaper found its way into the hands of some higher-ups within the Boy Scouts, who decided to take action against Curran.</p><p>These days Curran works as a journalist with CNN, but three decades ago, he found himself in a very different position, as the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America. Curran was in Chicago recently for a convention of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association, when he stopped by the StoryCorps booth with his partner, Noel Parks.</p><p>Curran was a freshman at UCLA, when he got a letter at his dorm. &ldquo;I opened it up and it was from the council executive, the head guy of the local scout council, the Mt. Diablo Council. And it said, &lsquo;Your application to attend the national jamboree is rejected. And we need to have a conversation about your future participation with scouting.&rsquo;</p><p>So I called the council executive from my dorm room and I said does this have something to do with the article in the [Oakland] Tribune? Does this have something to do with the fact that I&rsquo;m gay?&rdquo;</p><p>And he sort of hemmed and hawed and said &ldquo;Well, yes, and we can talk about it at Thanksgiving.&rdquo;</p><p>So that&rsquo;s what happened. My mother and my stepfather [and my troop leader] and I met with this council executive guy over Thanksgiving vacation and we had this lengthy conversation the gist of which was, &ldquo;Do you still espouse homosexuality?&rdquo; And I said: &ldquo;If by that are you asking whether I&rsquo;m still gay, the answer is yes.&rdquo;</p><p>And he said, &ldquo;Scouting does not believe that you have the moral qualifications to be a leader. And so we are revoking your registration in scouting, we&rsquo;re revoking your registration in your troop.&rdquo; And he said knowing that my troop knew that I was gay and was perfectly happy to have me. So that was the end of that.</p><p>I just remember shaking with anger at the injustice of it, but also sort of impotent to do anything about it. But also knowing that you&rsquo;re talking with this guy, it&rsquo;s a civilized conversation and you just have to keep cool and act like a scout would act.</p><p>And so in April of 1981, we filed suit against the Boy Scouts of America. We meaning myself and the ACLU of Southern California.<br />It was a trial with testimony, and both sides, my friends in scouting getting on the stand and me getting on the stand, and the council executive, all testifying.</p><p>And the judge at the trial ruled against us, so we appealed. And 18 years almost to the day after we filed that suit, I lost.</p><p>But I have to say that I think it&rsquo;s very much made me a better journalist.</p><p>Because unlike nearly all of the people I&rsquo;ve ever worked with in journalism, I know what it&rsquo;s like to be on the other side of the mic.<br />I volunteered for that. But it has very much informed the way that I treat others and the way that I concern myself with accuracy. Because I heard my story misreported a million times, and knew how the little details could be gotten wrong. And so I really struggled &ndash; much to the annoyance of my editors - to get those details, the nuances right, even though sometimes it takes more time to tell a story that way.&rdquo;</p></p> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/storycorps/gay-journalist-battles-boy-scouts-court-18-years-110793 Illinois’ Medical Marijuana program kicks off with public comments http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois%E2%80%99-medical-marijuana-program-kicks-public-comments-110146 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/medicalmarijuana.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The Illinois Department of Health hosted the public comments forum. It&rsquo;s the first part of the state&rsquo;s four-year pilot medical marijuana program. When he signed it into law in 2013, Governor Pat Quinn vowed Illinois would have the toughest rules and guidelines in the country. That&rsquo;s what concerned many of the people who spoke Tuesday at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.</p><p>One issue had to do with how the state plans to identify those who&rsquo;ll use marijuana for medicinal purposes.</p><p>&ldquo;I just don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s fair that patients go through background checks when other patients don&rsquo;t have to go through background checks to get their ritalin or whatever drugs they&rsquo;re getting from doctors,&rdquo; said Esther Lopez, who describes herself as a patient and a caregiver. &ldquo;The person I take care of is on Social Security. She&rsquo;s blind, disabled and gets food stamps. How is she supposed to afford this medicine?&rdquo;</p><p>Steve Fix said he self-medicates to alleviate symptoms stemming from Crohn&#39;s Disease. His comments to the Illinois Department of Public Health were also about the amount it&rsquo;ll cost to get into the program.</p><p>&ldquo;The committee does have the authority to adjust the pricing and fees,&rdquo; said Fix.&ldquo; It&rsquo;ll cost $100 for most people and $50 for veterans to obtain a program card. &ldquo;They do not have the authority to adjust fingerprinting that&rsquo;s required.&rdquo;</p><p>The comments were supposed to be for patient&rsquo;s concerns. But others including doctors and potential dispensers had their say too.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m a firm believer in this program rolling out effectively and correctly in Illinois,&rdquo; said Lake County pharmacist Joseph Friedman. &ldquo;Cannabis is a drug. And the idea that this be dispensed or procured or run by Illinois&rsquo; pharmacists is the best idea we can put on the table. There are things about this drug that a &lsquo;budtender&rsquo; in Colorado will not have any idea about.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicagoan Ralph Wilson, a retired public school teacher, says he wants to get in the medical marijuana business as both a dispenser and cultivator. He&rsquo;s forming a corporation and if things go well, he&rsquo;ll get a licensed pharmacist who&rsquo;ll dispense the drug, as required by Illinois law. But he thinks there are too many unanswered questions that&rsquo;ll leave him and other potential entrepreneurs without a chance to get started.</p><p>&ldquo;The pilot program will end in either 2017 or 2018. So how do you go to a group of investors or a bank and say &lsquo;I want to borrow $1 million dollars?&rsquo; And they say that program is going to be over in three years. How are you going to pay us back in three years? In four years?&rdquo;</p><p>The state&rsquo;s health department will give the comments to a legislative committee who&rsquo;ll boil down the information and make any adjustments to the law that won&rsquo;t interfere with some of the mandatory stipulations. For example, unlike California, where patients can grow their own drug, it will be against Illinois law to do so. That requirement is not subject to change.</p><p>Another public session is set for May 21 in Springfield. People who still want to add their written comments have until June 2 to do so at the website mcpp.illinois.gov</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Host &amp; Producer/Reporter Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2Fyolandanews&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNGmSnb6VVP4PF16T9kU89VAobkoXw">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub">Google+</a></em></p></p> Wed, 07 May 2014 13:38:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois%E2%80%99-medical-marijuana-program-kicks-public-comments-110146 State senate bill mandates labels on genetically engineered food http://www.wbez.org/news/state-senate-bill-mandates-labels-genetically-engineered-food-108310 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/GM Foods 130807 AY_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A proposed Illinois senate bill aims to label all genetically engineered food. A hearing on the bill takes place this Wednesday in the southern Illinois town of Carbondale.</p><p>Emily Carroll of the advocacy group Food and Water Watch supports the bill..</p><p>&ldquo;This is not a ban, it&rsquo;s not about economics, it&rsquo;s not about science, this is just about the consumer&rsquo;s right to know,&rdquo; Carroll said. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t track the effects of genetically engineered food because right now they aren&rsquo;t labelled. This is a huge public health experiment but without the information for people to actually know what they&rsquo;re eating.&rdquo;</p><p>The legislation won&rsquo;t address the merits or drawbacks of genetic engineering, says the sponsor of the bill, Senator David Koehler (D-Peoria). He says he&rsquo;ll leave that question to experts and scientists.</p><p>The last public hearing on the labelling bill is scheduled for September 17th in Chicago. Similar legislation earlier this summer passed in Maine and Connecticut, but failed in California last fall. More than 10 other states are considering labeling measures. In polls like these two, Americans support labelling genetically engineered food.</p><p>Back when the California bill was being debated, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a statement saying the science is clear -- &ldquo;crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.&rdquo; AAAS says the Food and Drug Administration requires special labelling on food only if there is a special health or environmental risk without that information. It concludes that in this case, &ldquo;legally mandated labels will only mislead and falsely alarm consumers.&rdquo;</p><p>It&rsquo;s not that simple, says Jennifer Kuzma, an associate professor of science and technology policy at the University of Minnesota. Last fall, she reviewed the scientific literature on genetically engineered food.</p><p>&ldquo;You can&rsquo;t really say that all genetically engineered foods are safe or unsafe,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>For example, scientists could take a scorpion toxin and put it into a corn plant, or an allergen from shrimp or seafood and put it into corn. Kuzma says that&rsquo;s probably not very safe. On the other hand, she points out plants have naturally occurring toxins to defend themselves against insects. For example, if farmers used conventional methods to breed potatoes that have more of their natural toxins, than those potatoes might not be safe for humans to eat. She concludes that both ways are capable of producing unsafe crops.</p><p>Kuzma says there are arguments for and against labelling, but points out it comes down to how much people trust the food industry.</p><p>&ldquo;Often these decisions about these crops are made behind closed doors, and all of a sudden, people are presented with &lsquo;oh, it&rsquo;s on the market and and I&rsquo;m eating it? Really?&rsquo; I think that can anger people.&rdquo;</p><p>She stresses safety is not just a scientific issue, but a social construction.</p><p>&ldquo;I can say, &lsquo;I&rsquo;ve tested this, and it showed no health effects over the two-year life of a rat, that doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean that it&rsquo;s safe for humans to eat over a lifetime,&rdquo; Kuzma said. &ldquo;I think we need to decide what is safe as a society, what will we accept in terms of uncertainties that we&rsquo;re willing to deal with in order to reap the benefits of some of these crops.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Alan Yu is a WBEZ metro desk intern. Follow him @Alan_Yu039.</em></p></p> Tue, 06 Aug 2013 17:18:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-senate-bill-mandates-labels-genetically-engineered-food-108310 California prison hunger strike and a look at what Brazil protests accomplished http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-07-16/california-prison-hunger-strike-and-look-what-brazil-protests <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AP070202071711.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We take a look at the California prison hunger strike and mass incarceration. Then, we get an update on the Brazilian government&#39;s response to last month&#39;s protests. And protesting continues in Turkey.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F101325390&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-california-prison-hunger-strike-and-a-lo.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-california-prison-hunger-strike-and-a-lo" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: California prison hunger strike and a look at what Brazil protests accomplished" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p></p> Tue, 16 Jul 2013 11:23:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-07-16/california-prison-hunger-strike-and-look-what-brazil-protests Proposition 8 likely headed to the Supreme Court http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2012-02-08/proposition-8-likely-headed-supreme-court-96211 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-08/6840580107_9aa8e2c43a.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-08/6840580107_9aa8e2c43a.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 421px;" title="Gay rights advocates march in West Hollywood, LA in celebration of the reversal of Proposition 8. (Flickr/Charlie Kaijo)"></p><p>Same sex marriage is on the way to the <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/02/gay-marriage-divide-evident-even-among-judges-in-proposition-8-case.html">Supreme Court</a>, thanks to California’s 9th Circuit Court. The <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/feb/08/conservative-leaning-supreme-court-gay-marriage?newsfeed=true">ruling</a>, though, is super narrow -- it’s unlikely to create a federal right to same sex marriage. More likely, it’s going to allow states to continue the march toward same sex marriage equality and to create greater barriers to referendums rescinding legislature-approved same sex marriage laws. (The majority, by the way, makes explicit appeals to swing Justice Stevens while the dissenting judge clearly aims at Justice Scalia in his opinion.)</p><p>But the best, best part of the ruling is the straight forward, no nonsense way the majority opinion slashes through the arguments against same sex marriage to assert that, fundamentally, Prop 8 was designed to hurt a particular group of people.</p><p>Here are some words of wisdom straight from the majority opinion:</p><p><em>“Proposition 8 serves no purpose and has no effect other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”</em></p><p><em>“Proposition 8 operates with no apparent purpose but to impose on gays and lesbians, through the public law, a majority’s private disapproval of them and their relationships, by taking away from them the official designation of ‘marriage,’ with its societally recognized status. Proposition 8 therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause.”</em></p><p><em>“It is implausible to think that denying two men or two women the right to call themselves married could somehow bolster the stability of families headed by one man and one woman.”</em></p><p><em>"We do not celebrate when two people merge their bank accounts; we celebrate when a couple marries."</em></p><p>The dissent from N. Randy Smith is pretty spectacular for its leaning on views of marriage as the support beam of procreation. He writes:</p><p><em>“The family structure of two committed biological parents -– one man and one woman -– is the optimal partnership for raising children.”</em></p><p>He argues that marriage between one man and one woman “preserves the fundamental and historical purpose of marriage.”</p><p>Just a bit of irony from the sitting Mormon judge on the 9th district.</p><p>For a look at the decision its entirety, click <a href="http://documents.latimes.com/proposition-8-gay-marriage-unconstitutional/">here</a>.</p></p> Wed, 08 Feb 2012 20:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2012-02-08/proposition-8-likely-headed-supreme-court-96211 County starts freeing inmates wanted by ICE http://www.wbez.org/story/county-starts-freeing-inmates-wanted-ice-91808 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-09/Cook county jail Ted S. Warren-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A new Cook County ordinance that touches the hot-button issue of immigration is allowing inmates out of the county’s jail and making waves in other parts of the country.</p><p>The ordinance, approved Wednesday by the County Board, halts compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests that certain inmates stay in jail up to two business days beyond what their criminal cases require. The requests, known as detainers, give ICE time to pick up the inmates for possible deportation.</p><p>Sheriff Tom Dart’s office says by Friday afternoon the jail had freed 11 jail inmates named in ICE detainers.</p><p>ICE took custody of 721 Cook County inmates on detainers this year and 1,665 last year, according to Dart’s office. “I guess that’s it,” spokesman Steve Patterson says.</p><p>The ordinance requires the jail to free such inmates unless the federal government agrees in advance to pay for the extended confinement. ICE says the feds don’t reimburse any local jurisdiction in the country for those costs.</p><p>“It’s like a godsend,” says Carlos Torres, 29, of North Lawndale.</p><div class="inset"><p><span style="color: rgb(165, 42, 42);"><span style="font-size: 24px;"><em><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;">‘You have many localities and state legislatures trying to do immigration policy. We’re not best equipped to do this.</span></em></span></span><span style="color: rgb(165, 42, 42);"><span style="font-size: 24px;"><em><span style="font-family: georgia,serif;">’</span></em></span></span></p></div><p>Torres says Chicago police last month arrested his father after finding narcotics in a car in which he was a passenger. Torres says his father, a Mexico native, has an expired green card and that his U.S. record includes a burglary conviction. “So that would make him more likely to get deported,” Torres says.</p><p>ICE found out Torres’s father was in the jail and put a detainer on him. But the ordinance gives the inmate a better chance of walking free after a court appearance Tuesday. “I’m relieved,” Torres says.</p><p>Jesús García, D-Chicago, and other commissioners who backed the measure say detainers violate inmates’ due-process rights and erode community trust in local cops.</p><p>“You have many localities and state legislatures trying to do immigration policy,” García says. “We’re not best equipped to do this.”</p><p>García says local governments are stuck with the job until Congress overhauls the nation’s immigration laws.</p><p>Those localities have some cover from a federal court ruling in Indiana this summer. The ruling says compliance with ICE detainers is voluntary.</p><p>Still, a few Cook County commissioners have qualms about ignoring them. “Under this ordinance, gang bangers and people involved in drug dealing, sex trafficking and criminal sexual assault will be released back into our communities,” Timothy Schneider, R-Bartlett, said during Wednesday’s County Board meeting. “This is clearly our Willie Horton moment.”</p><p>A Massachusetts prison released Horton, a convicted felon, as part of a weekend furlough program in 1986. He did not return and committed violent crimes that came back to haunt Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.</p><p>ICE sounds a similar alarm. “ICE has not sought to compel compliance through legal proceedings [but] jurisdictions that ignore detainers bear the risk of possible public safety risks,” the agency said in a statement about the Cook County vote.</p><p>Asked whether ICE will take the county to court to compel compliance, the agency did not answer.</p><p>The ordinance, meanwhile, is reverberating beyond the county. “For a long time we felt like we were in this alone,” says Juniper Downs, lead deputy counsel for Santa Clara County, California. “Cook County’s bold policy may affect the direction of the policy we develop.”</p><p>At least three other counties — Taos and San Miguel, both in New Mexico, and San Francisco in California — have limited the sorts of inmates they’re holding on ICE detainers. None has gone as far as Cook County, which is ignoring the detainers altogether.</p></p> Fri, 09 Sep 2011 23:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/county-starts-freeing-inmates-wanted-ice-91808 Hunger strike puts focus on Calif. prison conditions http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-07-21/hunger-strike-puts-focus-calif-prison-conditions-89485 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-21/prisoner_hunger_strike_01_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It appears that a three-week hunger strike by prisoners in California has ended. Officials with the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation say inmates have started eating again after some of their demands were met. Chief among those demands was an end to long-term solitary confinement.</p><p>Advocates for prisoners say they can't confirm that the strike has actually ended.</p><p><strong>Solitary Confinement Criticized</strong></p><p>Cruz Gallegos' brother was convicted of murder 26 years ago. Right now he's in California's Pelican Bay State Prison, near the Oregon border. Gallegos says he's been in solitary confinement for 20 years.</p><p>"They are supposed to rehabilitate him; that's not rehabilitation, it's not, it's inhumane, it's cruel," Gallegos says. "It's a punishment. He's already in prison; this is a prison within a prison."</p><p>Gallegos' brother is being held in a Secure Housing Unit. Prisoners are kept isolated in small cells 22 and a half hours a day and aren't allowed phone calls or visits. Officials say the SHU is for the most violent criminals and identified prison gang members.</p><p>For nearly a month, family members and prisoner rights advocates have been holding rallies in support of the hunger strikers.</p><p>Dolores Canales was at one earlier this week in downtown Los Angeles. Canales' son John, who is in jail for murder, has been in Pelican Bay's SHU for 10 years.</p><p>"He has not had any human contact whatsoever, he has not had a phone call," Canales says.</p><p><strong>Strike Involved Thousands</strong></p><p>Hundreds of prisoners started refusing to eat on July 1. At its peak, the hunger strike spread to more than a third of the state's facilities, with up to 6,600 prisoners participating.</p><p>Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for state's prisons, says officials are willing to meet some demands. Inmates will now get wool hats in cold weather, wall calendars and some educational opportunities. And Thornton says officials will review gang management and isolation policies. She says under current policy, someone is only put in the isolation unit after careful review.</p><p>"An investigator has to take all the information and it has to be from multiple sources," Thornton says. "You can't just look at one tattoo and say, 'Oh, that person is a gang member.'"</p><p>But advocates say the policies are arbitrary and getting out is nearly impossible. They say prisoners must renounce gang activity and provide information about other members. But Gloria Romero, a former state senator, says that's not an option.</p><p>"In the world of prison rules, to name names — essentially to snitch — is basically marking someone for death. You don't do that," Romero says.</p><p>Romero authored several prison reform laws during her 12 years in the legislature. She says keeping prisoners in severe isolation has done little to break up the state's violent gangs.</p><p>"It's a failed policy; it doesn't work," Romero says. "It hasn't worked for well over a decade."</p><p>Prison officials disagree and point to recent indictments of gang members as proof. A spokeswoman for the prisons says a review of isolation practices is under way and further changes will be seen in the coming months. <div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. <img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1311281237?&gn=Hunger+Strike+Puts+Focus+On+Calif.+Prison+Conditions&ev=event2&ch=1070&h1=U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=138522172&c19=20110721&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=2&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></div></p></p> Thu, 21 Jul 2011 15:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-07-21/hunger-strike-puts-focus-calif-prison-conditions-89485 Power-plant emissions bill dead, but not for long http://www.wbez.org/story/power-plant-emissions-bill-dead-not-long-85522 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-21/hardhats.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>A proposal for Chicago to regulate exhaust from coal-fired power plants may be dying. But the bill’s sponsor, Ald. Joe Moore, 49th Ward, says it will come back to life soon.</p><p>Moore’s legislation is stuck in a joint City Council committee chaired by Alds. Virginia Rugai, 19th, and James Balcer, 11th — close allies of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who opposes the bill. But Moore says he will introduce a similar version after Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel takes office next month and a new City Council convenes.</p><p>The proposal targets fine particulate matter, known as soot, that many health experts blame for respiratory diseases. It would also impose one of the nation’s first limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.</p><p>California-based Edison International, which owns coal-fired generators in two mostly Latino neighborhoods of Chicago, dispatched a top Latino executive to a Chicago City Council hearing Thursday. Pedro Pizarro, president of a company arm called Edison Mission Group, warned that the regulations would force the plants offline.</p><p>“If we take on, unilaterally, costs that our competitors don’t, we can’t compete,” Pizarro told WBEZ after the hearing. “We don’t protect the jobs for employees. We don’t end up serving our customers.”</p><p>The company’s Fisk and Crawford plants, which stand in Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, together employ about 185 workers. The company sells the electricity in the wholesale market.</p><p>Moore accused Pizarro of crying wolf. “Business and industry always claim we’re going to drive them out of business,” the alderman said. “And you know what? If you push them hard enough, they’ll do what they need to do. We have a cleaner environment and a stronger economy as a result.”</p><p>Spectators packed the council chambers for the hearing. Edison’s local unit, Midwest Generation, bused in about 300 employees. Many wore hard hats and blue work shirts. Outside the hearing, they chanted, “Save our jobs!”</p><p>A similar number of environmentalists and neighborhood activists attended to urge the bill’s passage. They tried to hijack the workers’ chant, changing it to, “Save our lives!”</p></p> Fri, 22 Apr 2011 10:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/power-plant-emissions-bill-dead-not-long-85522 Health care law support dips on budget woes http://www.wbez.org/story/news/health-care-law-support-dips-budget-woes-85099 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//story/photo/2011-April/2011-04-12/111995538 (1).jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A new poll finds support for President Barack&nbsp;Obama's overhaul at its lowest level since passage last year.</p><p>Worries about government deficits that keep rising due to health&nbsp;care costs appear to be driving the numbers.</p><p>The Associated Press-GfK poll showed that support for Obama's&nbsp;health insurance expansion has slipped to 35 percent, while&nbsp;opposition stands at 45 percent, and another 17 percent are&nbsp;neutral.</p><p>Among seniors, support has dipped below 30 percent for the first&nbsp;time.</p><p>But in an interview Tuesday with the AP, Medicare chief Donald&nbsp;Berwick pleaded for more time on the health care law. And he&nbsp;branded a leading Republican plan "unfair and harmful" and "a&nbsp;form of withholding care."</p><p>The poll comes ahead of a major speech by Obama on the deficit,&nbsp;scheduled for Wednesday.</p></p> Tue, 12 Apr 2011 21:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/news/health-care-law-support-dips-budget-woes-85099