The Death Penalty Blog : Displaying 281-300 of 318


My Mission at DPF

Posted by Yoko on August 20th, 2008

As a Japanese national, I have a unique perspective on the death penalty.

Many people are surprised to learn that Japan, like the United States, has a death penalty. What surprises people most is that Japan still uses hanging as its method of execution and that hangings are carried out in secret.   The condemned prisoner, their lawyers, and the family of the condemned do not know when the execution is scheduled to occur.  They are usually notified the morning of the execution and this information is made public the following day. (It used to be completely hidden from all parties until the policy was changed in December 2007.) According to the recent public poll, over 90% of Japanese people support the death penalty.
 
When I lived in Japan, I didn't have an opportunity to discuss the death penalty or even think about it seriously.  I simply accepted it as part of life in Japan.  In fact, due to my political ignorance at the time, I used to support the death penalty.
 
But as you may have guessed, I now fall into the ten percent of Japanese people who oppose the death penalty.
 
Its the perception of many people that the condemned don't have the right to live because they are responsible for the taking the lives of innocent victims. Of course, I now strongly disagree with that thought construct and believe that every human being deserves to live. 
 
Because of my own experience here in the bay area and the knowledge that I've acquired by attending school here, I am now committed to educating my friends regarding the issues surrounding the death penalty.  This is one of the main components of my mission at DPF!

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Pointless and Needless

Posted by Lance Lindsey on August 12th, 2008

Nat Hentoff's piece, "Sanitizing the Death Penalty," which was originally published on WorldNetDaily a few months ago, is certainly disturbing as he reflects on the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze v. Rees.  The Court, in their merciless opinion, found that the process by which we methodically, ritualistically poison condemned prisoners to death (lethal injection) is not cruel and unusual punishment even if there is a risk of inflicting significant pain on the prisoner during the process.

However, even with such a heartless conclusion, where at least one standard of decency appears to be devolving instead of evolving, another powerful voice on behalf of civilization over barbarism, moral courage over "moral error," rose above the Scalian smoke and mirrors to speak clearly to what is in fact an intolerable conclusion: "...that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible or social public purpose." Justice Stevens can be forgiven his use of the word "marginal" because he now joins other illustrious jurists such as Marshall, Blackmun and Brennan, as well as others on the current court, who have "awakened" to the futility and cruelty of tinkering with the administration of torture and death in our criminal justice system and courageously speak out for abolition of the death penalty.

Mario Cuomo spoke eloquently on behalf of this growing chorus of human rights leaders when he said: "We should refuse to allow this time to be marked forever in the pages of our history as the time that we were driven back to one of the vestiges of our primitive condition, because we were not intelligent enough, because we were not civilized enough, to find a better answer to violence than violence."

We welcome Justice John Paul Stevens to our growing ranks.


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Mike Farrell and Don McCartin in the Fresno Bee

Posted by Stefanie on August 6th, 2008

An excellent  op-ed by DPF President Mike Farrell and former Judge Don McCartin appeared in the Fresno Bee today.

Don McCartin, was a judge with the Superior Court.  He sentenced more men to death than any other in his jurisdiction. He was known as "the hanging judge of Orange County."

Excerpted from the op-ed:

Don McCartin, having sentenced nine men to death and then watched as the system examined, re-examined and finally overturned all of his convictions while executing none of them, now believes the death penalty is a hideously expensive fraud. It tortures the loved ones of murder victims by dragging them through the years of complex appeals required by the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to protect the innocent.

McCartin's experience with the death penalty system confirms the findings of the California Commisison on the Fair Administration of Justice which called California's death penalty "dysfunctional" and revealed the excesisves costs associated with this failing system.

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"My First Month at Death Penalty Focus"

Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on August 4th, 2008

For those of you who are frequent visitors to our site, my name and face may be unfamiliar to you.That's because I am a new addition to the Death Penalty Focus team.My name is Rebecca Rose and I am the new Development Director here at DPF. I come to this organization with a deep conviction about this issue and a drive to do everything I can to help end the death penalty.

Even though I've been here only a few short weeks, the staff and Board have made me feel completely welcome, and energized me with their infectious enthusiasm. Their support has made the transition from my job and life in San Diego to San Francisco smoother than I could have imagined.

From the moment I set foot in this office, it has been very clear to me that everyone in this organization is truly passionate about the work they do. I have been so inspired by the programs here at DPF, and there are even bigger things on the horizon.I know that we have a long way to go in this movement, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside such committed activists.

Most importantly, I know that it is our base of supporters that makes us strong. The first thing I realized is how strong our network of support really is, and how much momentum there is in our community to make changes in this system.

I look forward to learning more about this issue, and to getting to know more of our supporters, donors and activists.By working together, we can achieve our goal of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole!

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Great Video of Former Florida State Prison Warden Ron McAndrew

Posted by Stefanie on July 31st, 2008

This is a really compelling video of former warden, Ron McAndrew, talking about the executions he oversaw and the death penalty:  http://www.palmbeachpost.com/search/content/local_news/slideshows/deathrow/wardenvideo.html

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Video of DPF Prez Mike Farrell speaking

Posted by Stefanie on July 31st, 2008
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Great Letter from a DPF Member in San Luis Obispo

Posted by Stefanie on July 22nd, 2008

This is a great letter co-authored by a DPF member in San Luis Obispo, CA.


San Luis Obispo Tribune
July 10, 2008
Viewpoint: Turn to other options for the death penalty
By Susan Pyburn and Howard Gillingham


Coinciding with the release of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice report on the death penalty was the release of Paul House, cleared on DNA evidence after 22 years on Tennessee's death row.

There was also the release from duty of two Los Angeles police officers because of an investigation into their probable perjurious evidence that, unknown to the officers, was contradicted by a videotape, resulting in a case dismissal.

The state-ordered report underscores what Paul House knows firsthand, as do more than 100 previously freed men and women from this country's death rows. The inescapable conclusion is that every day in courtrooms around the country (or do we think Los Angeles is unique?) men and women are unfairly convicted with testimony that is perjured or given in good faith but mistaken.

While there are many able lawyers, men and women are represented by other lawyers who have been drunk or asleep during the trial and/or are having intimate relationships with witnesses, wives or girlfriends of the accused. Also, deals with witnesses- too often concealed- are made for shorter sentences. Is it any wonder that California - like Illinois and others before it-has now received a report on the status of the death penalty that states the death penalty is in need of costly repair, with no guarantee that it will work were we to put it up on the hoist and do all that is recommended?

Is it not foolhardy, especially in difficult economic times, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a system that may not be fixable? Nothing in the report indicates repairs will end perjury, mistaken witnesses, clandestine lawyer-party relationships or other built-in human frailties.

It is not the death penalty law that is broken as much as it is we who are broken. We are broken, as most preachers, priests and nonbelievers would admit, because we are human. And as with most human endeavors, including the ones done with the utmost care, mistakes will be made.

There is a solution to our understandable fury with horrible crimes and those who commit them: life in prison without the possibility ofparole- a sentence less costly than the death penalty; a sentence imposed in less time than the death penalty; a sentence that does not clog our trial and supreme courts; and a sentence that takes the drama and spotlight away from those who are not entitled to a great deal of society's valuable time and resources.

One of the dirty little secrets of the death penalty is that a death row inmate is specially handled and guarded on the row. It is ironic that so much is invested in protecting the safety of death row inmates …when we are planning to kill them.

They, as homicide defendants in general, are some of the best behaved of inmates. Place them in a general prison population, a crowded life with safety always a concern, and they go from semi-celebrity status to just another face in prison blues spending days not huddled with lawyers, psychologists and chaplains but just walking back and forth, "doing time."

Susan Pyburn, a photographer, writer and advocate for the homeless, is the founding member of Death Penalty Focus in San Luis Obispo. Howard Gillingham is a Southern California high school principal and former lawyer and defense expert in death penalty matters.


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Out of Commission

Posted by Stephen F. Rohde on July 8th, 2008
Stephen F. Rohde
Stephen F. Rohde, DPF Board Member

At a pivotal moment in the debate over capital punishment, a new report finds that California's death penalty system is "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse."

For decades, opponents of capital punishment have been saying just that: The death penalty doesn't work, it risks executing innocent people, it's riddled with (literally) fatal errors and it costs far more that the alternative of permanent incarceration.

Finally, the independent, nonpartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, following a comprehensive four-year study, agrees.

The 22-member commission was chaired by John K. Van de Kamp, and included prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officials, academics and others. It concluded that the "system is plagued with excessive delay in the appointments of counsel for direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions, and a severe backlog in the review of appeals and habeas petitions before the California Supreme Court. Ineffective assistance of counsel and other claims of constitutional violations are succeeding in federal courts at a very high rate."

Those of us who oppose the death penalty have been decrying the extent to which California's system fails to produce reliable results. Now the commission has found that federal courts in 54 habeas corpus challenges to California death penalty judgments granted relief in the form of a new guilt trial or a new penalty hearing in 38 of the cases, or an alarming 70 percent.

Even California's Chief Justice Ronald George told the commission that if nothing is done, the backlogs in post-conviction proceedings will continue to grow "until the system falls of its own weight."

The commission pointed out what abolitionists have been saying for years that the "failures in the administration of California's death penalty law create cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law, increase the duration and costs of confining death row inmates, weaken any possible deterrent benefits of capital punishment, increase the emotional trauma experienced by murder victims' families, and delay the resolution of meritorious capital appeals."

Supporters of capital punishment have dismissed our criticisms as biased, ill-informed and lacking in evidence. But the commission's report is based on three public hearings, in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Santa Clara, where 72 witnesses testified, including judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers actively engaged in the administration and operation of California's death penalty law, as well as academics, victims of crime, concerned citizens and representatives of advocacy organizations. The commission also conducted independent research and received 66 written submissions.

While abolitionists often speak out against the death penalty on deeply moral grounds, we rarely rely on pragmatic reasons. But for the wider community, the astronomical cost of capital punishment may prove to be its undoing. The commission found that "by conservative estimates, well over $100 million" is spent on capital punishment annually. "The strain placed by these cases on our justice system, in terms of the time and attention taken away from other business that the courts must conduct for our citizens, is heavy."

Yet, to reduce the average lapse of time from sentence to execution by half, to the national average of 12 years, the commission estimated that taxpayers would have to spend nearly twice what we are spending now.

Critics of the death penalty have warned for decades that we are sending innocent people to death row. Although the commission stated that it had learned of no credible evidence that the state of California has actually executed an innocent person (and we believe it has), it could not conclude "with confidence that the administration of the death penalty in California eliminates the risk that innocent persons might be convicted and sentenced to death."

While nationally, there were 205 exonerations of defendants convicted of murder from 1989 through 2003 (74 of whom were sentenced to death) 14 of the 205 murder cases took place in California. Since 1979, six defendants sentenced to death in California, whose convictions were reversed and remanded, were subsequently acquitted or had their murder charges dismissed for lack of evidence.

Two of the most dangerous flaws in the criminal justice system are erroneous eye-witness identifications (which the commission found have been identified as a factor nationwide in 80 percent of exonerations), and false confessions (where it is a factor in 15 percent of exonerations). California State Public Defender Michael Hersek reported to the commission that of the 117 death penalty appeals currently pending in his office, 17 featured testimony by in-custody informants, and another six included testimony by informants who were in constructive custody.

Yet over the last two years, when the commission made interim recommendations to reduce the risks of wrongful convictions resulting from erroneous eye-witness identifications, false confessions and testimony by in-custody informants, although bills were passed by the Legislature, they were all vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If there is not the political will and determination to heed the recommendations of the commission to "fix" the system, doesn't it follow that capital punishment itself should be abolished?

The commission concluded that the "time has come to address death penalty reform in a frank and honest way. To function effectively, the death penalty must be carried out with reasonable dispatch, but at the same time in a manner that assures fairness, accuracy and non-discrimination." Accordingly, first and foremost, the commission unanimously recommended a series of reforms to address ineffective assistance of counsel, which it estimated would cost at least $95 million more per year than is presently including that:

The California Legislature immediately address the unavailability of qualified, competent attorneys to accept appointments to handle direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings in California death penalty cases by expanding the Office of the State Public Defender to an authorized strength of 78 lawyers, a 33 percent increase in the OSPD budget, to be phased in over a three-year period, by expanding the California Habeas Corpus Resource Center to an authorized strength of 150 lawyers, a 500 percent increase to its current budget, to be phased in over a five-year period; that the staffing of the offices of the attorney general, which handle death penalty appeals and habeas corpus proceedings be increased as needed; and that funds be made available to the California Supreme Court to ensure that all appointments of private counsel to represent death row inmates on direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings comply with ABA Guidelines, and are fully compensated at rates that are commensurate with the provision of high quality legal representation and reflect the extraordinary responsibilities in death penalty representation.

The commission also recommended that funds be appropriated to fully reimburse counties for payments for defense services and reexamine the current limitations on reimbursement to counties for the expenses of homicide trials, that California counties provide adequate funding for the appointment and performance of trial counsel in death penalty cases in full compliance with ABA Guidelines.

Without taking sides, a majority of the commission presented detailed information on replacing the death penalty with a maximum sentence of lifetime incarceration or narrowing the "special circumstances" justifying the death penalty, to "assure a fully informed debate."

Framing the debate in terms of the total cost of four alternatives, the commissioners estimated that California could annually spend $137.7 million to maintain its current dysfunctional system, $216.8 million to reduce the length of the process to 12 years, $121 million for a more narrow death penalty or $11.5 million by replacing the death penalty with a policy of terminal confinement.

Leaving no doubt that the report is a stern rebuke to the whole system, five commissioners from the law enforcement community lodged an angry dissent, claiming it will "undermine public confidence in our capital punishment law and procedure," that it failed to adequately discuss arguments in favor of the death penalty, that uniformity among counties in seeking the death penalty for comparable crimes is not mandated and that capital punishment reflects the will of the people.

But a far larger group of 10 commissioners, took the unprecedented step of filing two supplemental statements calling for an outright repeal of the death penalty based on various factors including its cost, the risk of wrongful executions, the disproportionate impact on communities of color, geographic disparities, disadvantages facing poor defendants, the unjust bias triggered by allowing only "death qualified" jurors, how the death penalty forecloses the possibility of healing and redemption and the example set by other civilized societies that have abolished the death penalty.

The last time a state, New Jersey, undertook such a comprehensive examination of its death penalty system, it led to its abolition. Justice Harry Blackmun ended his career on the Supreme Court by declaring that he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death." Unless California is prepared to divert hundreds of millions of dollars year in and year out to fund the recommended reforms, the time has come for this state to end the death penalty once and for all.

This article originally appeared in the Daily Journal on July 8, 2008. 


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The Death Penalty is a Shameful Waste of Taxpayers' Money

Posted by Stefanie on July 1st, 2008
Chair of the California Commission, John Van De Kamp, at the press conference on June 30, 2008

A new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice has found that the death penalty costs California taxpayers $137 million dollars each year. This is a shameful waste of California's scarce public safety resources -- and our tax dollars.

The Commission concluded that replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment would save our state more than $125 million dollars each year.

This is money that could be spent on more effective violence prevention programs and other services that would actually make our communities safer, such child abuse prevention programs, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, education, and services for victims of crime. The death penalty is failed public policy, let's end the charade.

An op-ed by DPF Board Member Nancy Oliveira published in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday explored better uses for our tax dollars. It was accompanied by an excellent chart.

So did a KQED perspectives piece by Judy Kerr, CCV's Victim Liaison and Spokesperson.


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This just in...

Posted by Stefanie on June 26th, 2008

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice just sent out this press release.

****

CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON THE FAIR ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR RELEASE OF REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE DEATH PENALTY IN CALIFORNIA.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created by the California State Senate to examine the causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations and proposals to further insure that the administration of criminal justice in California is just, fair, and accurate, announced that it will release its tenth and final report, addressing the administration of the death penalty in California, on Monday, June 30, 2008. The report will be posted on the Commission's website, www.ccfaj.org, at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.

Members of the Commission, including Chair John Van de Kamp and Executive Director Gerald F. Uelmen, will participate in a press conference to discuss the contents of the report at 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon, June 30, in Room 1190 (The Governor's Press Room) at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

The Report, which is over 100 pages in length, is the first comprehensive review of the operation of California's death penalty law since its initial enactment in 1978. The Commission conducted three public hearings throughout California, and heard the testimony of 72 witnesses in preparing this report. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will expire on July 1, 2008.

CONTACT:
Gerald F. Uelmen, Executive Director
Tel. 408-554-5002
Fax 408-554-5026
Email guelmen@scu.edu

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Proposed death row facility to cost millions more than originally projected

Posted by Stefanie on June 10th, 2008

A new report by the CA State Auditor reveals that the proposed death row housing facility will cost far more than originally projected by the CDCR. The projected costs for building and maintaining the new death row facility for the next 20 years are shocking.  READ DPF'S PRESS RELEASE.

**********

June 10, 2008

The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
State Capitol
Sacramento, California 95814


Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

This letter report presents the first portion of the analysis conducted by the Bureau of State Audits (bureau) concerning the costs for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) to build a new condemned inmate complex (CIC) at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin). Understanding that Corrections' capital outlay budget change proposal for the new CIC is being discussed during the budget hearings for fiscal year 200809, we are focusing this letter report on the cost to build the CIC at San Quentin. Our second report, scheduled for public release in July 2008, will include cost estimates to build a CIC at alternate locations in California.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee (audit committee) asked the bureau to review the original plans and costs for the CIC project and compare them with the current plans and projected costs through the end of construction. To address this request, we obtained the services of a consultant specializing in estimating the cost of prison construction and operations Criminal Justice Institute, Inc.and conducted the following analyses:

• Reviewed the original project cost plan and compared it to the current project cost plan to determine the cause of the increase.
• Determined whether the estimated costs of the current project are reasonable.
• Determined whether the size of the proposed CIC would meet Corrections' needs 20 years into the future.
• Assessed the financial impact of further delays on the cost of the CIC project.

In 2003 the Legislature approved Corrections' request for $220 million to build a new CIC at San Quentin. According to Corrections, however, before construction could begin, the cost of the project increased significantly due to increases in the cost of construction materials, design changes, the need to address environmental concerns, and unforeseen costs, such as those to mitigate soil problems. To minimize these increases, Corrections modified its plan several times and eventually reduced the size of the complex from eight housing units to six and from 1,024 cells to 768 cells. Despite the 25 percent reduction in the size of the CIC, Corrections now estimates the cost of the project at $356 million, an increase of $136 million, or 62 percent.

Analyses by our consultant suggest that the cost to construct the CIC will exceed Corrections' recent estimate
. Although Corrections reasonably estimated construction costs, it was precluded from applying realistic escalation rates, and delays from the anticipated start date will add to project costs. Additionally, Corrections did not include the costs to activate and operate the CIC in its estimated costs. Our consultant estimates that the cost to construct the CIC will exceed Corrections' estimate of $356 million by $39.3 million and that the cost to activate the new CIC will reach $7.3 million. Furthermore, our consultant estimates that the average new staffing costs to operate the new CIC will average $58.8 million per year, for a total of approximately $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.

Corrections currently plans to double-cell (placing two inmates in one cell) certain condemned inmates to maximize the CIC's capacity; however, our consultant and other experts we spoke with raised concerns with this proposal. Specifically, the experts stated that capital cases often contain very personal, private, and sensitive materials and that doublecelling raises serious concerns about maintaining confidentiality during the preparation to defend a condemned inmate during the appeal process. In addition, our consultant expressed concern that doublecelling increases the risk of harm to the inmates who are housed together, particularly for long periods of time. If doublecelling condemned inmates occurs as planned, we estimate that the CIC's 1,152-inmate capacity will be reached in 2035; however, if the plan to double-cell inmates is not a feasible approach, the CIC will reach capacity in 2014, less than three years after it is expected to open.

The audit committee also asked us to review the alternative sites considered by Corrections and determine whether the cost/benefit analysis for each site considered all relevant factors. In our report 2003-130, titled California Department of Corrections: Its Plans to Build a New Condemned-Inmate Complex at San Quentin Are Proceeding, but Its Analysis of Alternative Locations and Costs Was Incomplete, issued in March 2004, we concluded that Corrections did not consider all feasible locations and relevant costs in making its decision to build the CIC at San Quentin. Our followup review found that Corrections has not performed any additional analyses of alternatives since we published the previous report.

We were also asked to address other issues that we intend to include in our second report, scheduled for public release in July 2008. Specifically, the audit committee asked us to identify and analyze alternative sites, including assessing the relative benefits and costs associated with constructing a CIC at San Quentin compared with the benefits and costs of constructing it elsewhere, as well as evaluating the possibility of using the currently proposed CIC site at San Quentin for other purposes. We were asked to consider factors such as the alternate sites' capital outlay costs; projected expenditures for ongoing maintenance and operations; and access and proximity to state and federal courts, legal counsel, medical care, and condemned inmates' families. Our analysis will also include, for locations where doing so would be feasible, the cost of constructing six two-story buildings to house condemned inmates in a CIC at each location, including San Quentin, versus constructing three four-story "stacked" buildings to house condemned inmates, as currently proposed by Corrections. Finally, we were asked to compare the cost of constructing a CIC in California with other states' costs to construct the same type of facility.


Click here for:

Fact Sheet in PDF Format
http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/factsheets/2007-120.1.pdf

Report in PDF Format
http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2007-120.1.pdf


For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact
Margarita Fernandez, Chief of Public Affairs, at (916) 445-0255.


California State Auditor
Bureau of State Audits
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 300
Sacramento, California 95814
916.445.0255 or TTY 916.445.0033

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DAY THIRTY: June 8, 2008

Posted by on June 8th, 2008
Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus

On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books).As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are excerpts from his tour dispatches currently running on The Huffington Post. [TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]

DAY THIRTY - Sunday, June 8, 2008

Up early again, but not so far to drive this day. Henry Tennenbaum's show is live on KRON-TV bright and early on Sunday morning here in San Francisco, so I'm happy to stop in. And it's an extra pleasure this morning as the guest preceding me is Will Durst, a very bright and extraordinarily funny guy who satirizes political figures on both sides of the aisle. Will and I first met when he appeared at a benefit for Artists United to Win Without War, the group Robert Greenwald and I started in the hope of raising the level of debate in the country and awakening the American people before Cheney/Bush invaded Iraq. (We failed.) Will really makes me laugh. To my delight, he has helped us by appearing at DPF's "Stand Up For Justice" comedy night a number of times since.

Henry is fun and very energetic, so he fits a lot of information into a short interview and then I'm out of there in time for Mule and I to make our way to the North Beach area and another interview, this with Brian Copeland on KGO Radio's Newstalk. Brian is another standup comic who has appeared for us on DPF's comedy night. He's also a very astute commentator and a talented writer. His book, "Not a Genuine Black Man," is at once a funny and tragic tale of his young life and a searing indictment of the racial bias in San Leandro, CA, not too many years ago.

Interviews out of the way, our next stop is at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, about ten minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Elaine Petrocelli, the proprietor, is a passionate champion of books, a respected community leader and a fierce defender of the endangered independent bookstore. She, her husband and their events manager, Kate Ferguson, provide their devoted customers the opportunity to meet all the significant authors who pass through the Bay Area and they were even able to slip me into the mix.

This was actually my second time at Book Passage - Shelley and I were here when the book came out in hard cover over a year ago - and the enthusiastic embrace offered today makes it feel a lot like coming home.

The event is co-sponsored by Death Penalty Focus and my friends Lance Lindsey and Stefanie Faucher, respectively the Executive Director and Program Director of DPF, are there to provide support, answer questions about our work and offer opportunities for people to become involved. These two are truly the dynamic duo of DPF. Lance is that wonder of wonders, a blindingly intelligent, soft-spoken, dedicated, kind, graceful and completely self-effacing man who does this work because his principles demand it. He's become a true and trusted friend. Stefanie, far too young to have the grasp of issues and organizational genius she demonstrates daily, simply astounds us all with her energy and commitment. Along with another ally, Natasha Minsker of the ACLU of Northern California, Stefanie was named Abolitionist of the Year by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. When we end this blight, she will have been one of the primary reasons why.

A large and enthusiastic group has gathered and Elaine, already a regular and generous supporter, introduces me and kindly announces that 10% of any sales during this afternoon's event will be contributed to DPF. The presentation itself seems to go well and, in short, we have a ball - might even have recruited some new members.

In the evening, DPF board member Elizabeth Zitrin and her husband Clint hosted Stefanie, Lance, his wife Ruta and me for dinner at Ristorante Milano, a wonderful little Italian Restaurant on Russian Hill in which they share a part ownership. Elizabeth, an attorney and a fountain of energy, serves not only on our board but is also Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International, on the board of the ACLU of Northern California, on the advisory board for the Northern California Innocence Project, and represents DPF on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in Europe, where she chairs the USA Working Group. As said, a fountain of energy.

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Alameda County Coalition is setting the pace!

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin on June 8th, 2008
DPF Board member Elizabeth Zitrin leading a communications workshop.
DPF Board member Elizabeth Zitrin leading a communications workshop.

The Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty held its first Activists Training on Saturday and it was a huge success.

DPF has been working with the coalition with great partners including the ACLU, Amnesty International, the League of Women Voters, Progressive Jewish Alliance, California People of Faith and others.

Over 70 activists attended the training, which was led by Coalition leaders.  They learned about the use of the death penalty in Alameda County, about tough questions and effective arguments; everyone practiced our messages and communications skills, and we learned about the important skills of lobbying, passing organizational resolutions, writing letters to the editor and blogging.

Alameda is one of the critical counties in our county-by-county statewide campaign for alternatives to the death penalty in California.

Get in touch with Stefanie at DPF (stefanie@deathpenalty.org) for info about joining the Alameda Coalition, or to find out about how you can get involved in your county or your state.

Saturday’s training was great – it was exciting to see so many committed activists pulling together.  

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Film about wrongful execution competes for a spot at the Seattle Film Festival

Posted by Stefanie on June 6th, 2008

A new film, titled "The Last Word," which tells the story of a Texas man who was executed for a crime he didn't commit is competing to premiere at the Seattle International Film FestivalYou can watch and vote on the film here.

A synopsis of the film is below:

 

This documentary takes the “Innocent Man on Texas Death Row” tale to a dark corner feared by all - - proving that an innocent man has been executed by the State.

A clash between good and evil strikes up on the High Plains of Texas when Johnny Frank Garrett, a 17 year old retarded boy is arrested, convicted and ultimately executed for the Halloween night rape, mutilation and murder of Sister Tadea Benz. The 76 year old nun was attacked while she slept in her room at the St. Francis Convent in Amarillo, Texas. Garrett claimed his innocence from the time of his arrest until his dying breath. Sixteen years after Garrett’s execution new evidence rose up from the cold case grave of the Amarillo Police Department proving they executed the wrong man!

During interviews with key players the case of Johnny Frank Garrett unfolds as a recipe for executing the innocent. A death penalty obsessed District Attorney and his lap-dog Medical Examiner, ladder climbing cops, bloodthirsty media, enraged and fearful jurors, incompetent defense lawyers, politicized judges, witch-hunting religious zealots and an ironfisted Governor with national ambitions meld together as perfect ingredients for a plate of government sponsored murder.

In Garrett’s final statement he professed his innocence one last time but did so in a voice driven by hate and vengeance. In his chilling conclusion Garrett promised those responsible for his murder that someday he would have the last word and they would pay for what they had done. For most of Garrett’s enemies “someday” happened long ago.

Regardless of faith, for or against the death penalty, liberal or conservative The Last Word compels viewers to feel not only the collective pain our societal conscience suffers for executing the innocent but also the individual fear of not knowing what margins of error our judges, jurors and executioners will find acceptable tomorrow.

 

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DAY TWENTY-SIX: June 4, 2008

Posted by on June 4th, 2008
Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus

On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books).As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are excerpts from his tour dispatches currently running on The Huffington Post. [TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]

DAY TWENTY-SIX - Wednesday, June 4, 2008

After spending the night in Ogallala, Nebraska, Mule and I take off and soon cross into Colorado's rolling brown hills with dark clouds gathering before us and storm and tornado warnings being broadcast.

Also being broadcast are the squeals of Rush Limbaugh, whose outrage at the success of Barack Obama is palpable. The list of adjectives he rains on those stupid enough to vote for this upstart is long and demeaning, but it's not quite enough to disguise the abject terror he clearly feels at the possibility of an Obama presidency. It's as though he fears that the change in this country promised by such a development threatens to make him and his ilk a mere asterisk in history. And maybe he's right. At any rate, his tenuous grasp on reality is exemplified this morning by rants against "the Global Warming hoax" and the announcement that the 5% unemployment rate - evidently a right-wing staple - means that "anybody willing to work has a job."

Switching away, I run into the dulcet tones of Dennis Prager, easily the most pompous, self-righteous and self-satisfied of radio's right-wing blatherers. Prager, too, is clearly terrified, caught mid-rant about how America has turned left! We're all Marxists, you know…

Another twist of the dial and I actually find some sense on the air. Ed Schultz is commenting on the political developments, telling us that Obama has invited three people to look at vice-presidential possibilities for him - and one of the three is Caroline Kennedy! How great to hear that's she's involved to that degree in the campaign!

For a few minutes I catch up on the phone with a friend who has been representing Governor George Ryan of Illinois. It's such a tragedy that this good man has been locked up on what seem to me to be bogus charges. Our hope was that the Supreme Court would overturn the conviction based on the incredibly poor conduct of the trial judge and some craziness with the jury, but that didn't happen, so now they're trying to examine what options are left.

Having known Ryan since he declared the moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois in 2000 after being confronted with a system so shoddy that more people had been freed from his death row than had been executed, I have found him to be a man of character. A self-described "conservative Republican death penalty supporter," Ryan had the personal integrity to recognize a failing system and take the steps necessary to fix it, if possible. Watching the change in him over the years it took to examine the system, and seeing him deal with the political pressure he experienced from every quarter, it was wonderful to watch a man elected to a position of leadership actually take his job seriously.

I really grew to like George Ryan for the methodical way he went about the task he set for himself, but when he had the courage and personal integrity to buck the political tide and do what was clearly the right thing in his eyes, he became a hero to me. To have him now in this awful situation is a tragedy. My heart breaks for him and for his wife, Lura Lynn.

Reaching Denver, we find the Oxford Hotel, a grand old place in Lo Do (Lower Downtown), a revitalized area near the train station. It's a great building just a block away from the Tattered Cover Bookstore, where I'm to do a reception for the ACLU of Colorado and then the book event, which they are co-sponsoring.

After a late lunch at a good vegetarian restaurant and an invigorating walk through downtown, I change and head to the Tattered Cover, which is in a terrific old three-story brick structure, a refurbished cannery. It's a fabulous place with two rambling floors of books of all types and old, overstuffed chairs and sofas set around so that people can relax and enjoy them.

The folks from the ACLU are terrific and the event goes well. With an introduction by Cathy Hazouri, President of the ACLU of Colorado, the evening's discussion tends to focus more on political and social issues, again with special attention to the death penalty, than on Hollywood and M*A*S*H, but that's fine with me. And, of course, M*A*S*H always finds a way to fit in.

I'm thrilled that Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has come down for the event. Mike has become a valued friend and is one of the great, if unsung, heroes of the death penalty abolition movement. His books, essays, studies, polls and lectures on the subject provide the basis for some of the most important work done on the issue today. Here in Colorado he has pioneered an effort to bring families still impacted by unsolved murders together with legislators to call for the elimination of the death penalty and the use of the money wasted on the killing system to instead fund efforts to resolve these "cold cases."

Another good night. Back to the Oxford to turn in as the threatened rainstorm finally shows up. No tornados, thank you, at least so far. Given all this, it may be a long and tricky drive to Park City, Utah, tomorrow.

DAY TWENTY-SEVEN - Thursday, June 5, 2008

The rain woke me up - a good thing because the hotel's wake-up call never came.

Mule and I headed out in a downpour amid radio reports of flooding in some intersections and high water on the highways. The rain was coming down in sheets, but once on the highway the worst part was the wall of water sent up by the semis. If one was in front of us, the wipers couldn't get the water off the windshield fast enough. When passing, there were moments when it felt as though we were underwater. Blind as a bat, I was forced to read our progress by the proximity to the truck we were passing. Unwilling, or unable, to take my eyes off the windshield in the hope of a momentary view of the road ahead, the side of the semi had to be read by peripheral vision. Got to be pretty scary a couple of times, but Mule as indomitable.

Mercifully, the rain slowed as we moved north into Wyoming and then west. And I must say, after going through the Plains states, Wyoming actually began to feel like it. As we climbed to higher altitude, snow still on the hills beside us, the ruptured land looked more and more like the Old West. I don't know if it's the result of seismic activity or the leavings of a passing glacier, but the rugged land boasts oddly-shaped rock outcroppings that are weirdly attractive.

Thinking of Wyoming, though, rugged western beauty is not the first thing that comes to mind. Former Senator Alan Simpson's incredibly snide, unforgivably brutal treatment of Anita Hill during the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court, a transparent attempt to savage her in order to save his President's hapless nominee, is one thought that occurs. Another is that this is the place that gave us an even more infamous troglodyte, the Member of the U.S. Congress who refused to support sanctions on South Africa's apartheid regime and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, later became Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush, and finally manipulated his way into the Vice Presidency of the United States so he could rule the world. What is it about the politics of this state?

Pulling off to fill up, I am once again required to pay over $4.00 per gallon of the cheapest gas - $4.08, to be exact. And, wanting to be sure the last mileage calculation was correct, I check it again. After doing some significant climbing, Mule is still getting 41 miles per gallon. Better than twice what I get in my pickup at home.

Pulling out, I note that there's suddenly another icon lit up on the dash. This one an exclamation point inside a kind of U. Unsure what it might mean, I assume the exclamation point is saying it's not good, so pull over and try to figure it out. Sure enough, it's identified in the owner's manual as an alarm. Wonderful, but it doesn't say what kind of alarm. How helpful.

I can sense nothing in the way Mule is behaving to suggest a problem, but I'm not anxious to have something fall off or blow up in the middle of a wild and lonely stretch of Wyoming highway. Cheney or Simpson might just happen by and run me over.

As I look at the thing, the U the exclamation point sits in has a sort of flat bottom. Could it represent a tire? I get out and look and they all seem fine. Deciding to drive on, I wrestle with the problem. I have to get to Park City, but this damned light won't go away. Deciding this is nuts, I stop again and search the manual one more time. And, finally, I find it! I was right, it means there's something wrong with a tire. OK, none are flat and we're still able to roll, so on we go. A few miles further down the line there's a sign indicating gas at a place called Elk Station, so I pull off and investigate. It's a pretty forlorn place with one station and not much else. Seeing no sign of an air hose, I step inside and find a friendly woman who directs me to a red hose in the back - if I'll just wait as she has to switch on the compressor. No problem and thank you ma'am.

Unsure of the proper pressure, I check each tire and put some air in every one. The last one, the left rear, does seem to be lower than the others, so I even them out and hope this solves the problem. Thanking the friendly woman, I fire up Mule and am disappointed to see that the damned light is still on. Having few options I put her in gear and pull back onto the highway and Mule, her hoof now apparently comfortable, turns out the light!

Zen and the art of Mule maintenance.

Back on the road the radio says Hillary Clinton has indicated she will "suspend" her campaign. Suspend? That doesn't exactly sound like ending it, does it. There are also reports that two different groups of Hillary supporters are circulating petitions demanding that she be named the vice-presidential nominee. Lanny Davis, the lawyer responsible for one of them, says she was told of the effort and didn't endorse it, but didn't tell him to quit. This is not good.

The BBC says Zimbabwe's police have "detained" U.S. and British diplomats who were traveling in the country. Also not good.

Zimbabwe's authorities have also "detained" Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition politician whose campaign threatens to unseat Robert Mugabe. Yet another not good.

And, Zimbabwe has decided to expel all international non-governmental aid organizations on the pretext that they have been involving themselves in the country's politics and are supporting the opposition. Very not good.

Lots of not good in the news this morning.

Khaled Sheikh Mohammad (KSM, to the intel folks) appeared before a military tribunal at Guantanamo today and reportedly told the presiding judge that the procedure was an "inquisition," that he and his co-defendants had been tortured for years and everyone knew it, and that he wanted to be sentenced to death so that he could be a martyr.

Hmmm. Sort of takes the sting out of the death penalty, doesn't it?

After a lengthy description of the circumstances of the trial and the fact that there are challenges to this process yet to be decided by the Supreme Court, the reporter cites observers from human rights organizations who condemn the entire setup as having been completely tainted by the use of torture to gain confessions.

In fact, an earlier report indicated that while under torture KSM confessed to things the intelligence people are pretty sure he didn't do, a testament to the value of information forced out through these grisly means.

A lawyer from the Administration, however, leapt to the defense of these trials, claiming that all the evidence presented to this court would be from statements "voluntarily given" to interrogators in a "clean environment." None of it, he insisted, would be that which was obtained through the use of torture.

"But," the reporter said, "they have been tortured for years."

"Yes," he admitted, "but the statements being presented in court now were not given under torture, they were given afterward, voluntarily."

It boggles the mind. People who were tortured now give incriminating statements voluntarily? Might one not assume that they did so under the impression that if these 'voluntary' statements were not forthcoming they might be taken back to the torture chambers?

And, I wish the reporter had asked, 'if these men were so ready and willing to "volunteer" these incriminating statements, why did they have to be tortured in the first place?'

Clive Stafford-Smith, an English lawyer who worked here in the US for many years in opposition to the death penalty and is now representing a number of those incarcerated in Guantanamo, was also interviewed. He said that the claims made by the government that the absence of scars on the accused proves that they were not tortured, are nonsense. He is representing a man who was tortured with a razor blade, he says, so his client certainly has scars, but most of the methods of torture used do not leave scars - waterboarding for example. They all, he emphasized, leave mental scars that, while not visible, are nonetheless scars in every sense of the word.

Enough, enough. Radio off.

Results of wind or water erosion are visible here. Some very oddly-shaped mounds and spires dot the ground as we pass. One area sports a sloping ridge topped with serrated rocks that looks amazingly like the back of a dinosaur.

Suddenly we're out of the brown, brush-covered highlands and heading down into a beautiful, deep-green valley. It turns out to be a series of such valleys that are quite striking, not something I'd have expected to see in Wyoming. The last of them is kind of schizophrenic: on the right it's an almost mesa-like cliff face sculpted out of red rock, while on the left it's a softly sloping, deep green hill climbing away from the road that looks remarkably like the Irish countryside.

Nearing Park City we are suddenly passing through Coalville, Utah. Boy, does that name take me back! This trip does trigger some memories. When I was a kid, my folks used to take us back every summer to visit our cousins in Minnesota. One year, my dad's old clunker couldn't be trusted to make the trip, so he borrowed my older sister's car - she was out of school and working and had been able to afford to buy a used Ford. Well, better than dad's or not, it broke down in Coalville, Utah, and we had to spend a couple of days in a motel my folks couldn't afford while the car got fixed - something they also couldn't afford. Rather than watch mom and dad worry, my brother Jim and I spent a lot of time outside throwing rocks.

But we always remembered Coalville, Utah.

Park City is a lovely little spot. I'm told it is "a liberal enclave in a very red state." I'm put up in a wonderful, comfortable and very friendly B&B called the Washington School Inn and have time to get situated before going down to the local TV station for an interview and then to the Park City Library for the book event.

A very nice crowd turns up and we have a terrific exchange. Almost all of the questions are about social issues this time, with just a couple about M*A*S*H. A good group.

After signing a number of books and posing for a few pictures, I'm taken to dinner at a local restaurant where I get to watch the Lakers lose the first game of the championship series to the Celtics.

Another not good.

[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]

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DAY SEVEN AND EIGHT: May 16 and 17, 2008

Posted by on May 17th, 2008
Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus

On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books).As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches. [TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]

DAY SEVEN - May 16, 2008

Up early again. Have to make tracks today and there's a telephone interview to do first, this with a woman at the Iowa Tribune, in anticipation of my arrival there (weeks from now, I assume).

The next gig is in Austin, Texas, almost 800 miles away, so I won't plan to get there tonight, but want to take a good bite out of it in order to get into the city relatively early tomorrow. I've not been to Austin and am looking forward to it. I keep hearing that it's the "Berkeley of Texas," a bastion of liberality in an otherwise conservative state.

With thanks to Bobby and Eugenie for their gracious hospitality I head back into Santa Fe, through the narrow lanes of that lovely town, and finally to U.S. Highway 285, which runs a pretty straight shot southeast to West Texas.

It's beautiful heading down out of the highlands under a bright blue sky pebbled with cottony white clouds. Driving up from El Paso on Tuesday, the climb from Las Cruces to Santa Fe was so gradual as to not be obvious, but a climb it was. Like El Paso, Las Cruces is less than 4,000 feet above sea level (actually higher than I had thought), while Santa Fe is nearly 7,500, so Mule had work to do - and did it without complaint. It was a 'beepless' day, thank heaven, without great panicky moments.

I filled up the tank in Taos last night despite the fact that I still had two squares showing on the gas gauge and could probably have easily made the 65 miles back down to Santa Fe, but since it was very dark and there wasn't a lot of civilization until we got close to Bobby and Eugenie's, I decided not to test the Mule. And again this morning the gauge says it's still full. Amazing.

As we race southward the mesas become less prominent and the land flattens out. It's interesting to watch the outside temperature rise (the one thing I CAN understand on the dash screen so full of complex diagrams and information) as our altitude falls. From the time we left L.A. and hit the desert the outside temperature has been in the high 90s, only dropping into the high 80s in El Paso. Once we pushed up to Santa Fe it got into the 60s and 50s, dropping one morning into the 40s, so having the connection between altitude and temperature spelled out before me is interesting. Taking full advantage of the downward slope and a lack of traffic, I push the Mule along at a good clip. I figure I've now broken the speed laws in every state we've touched so far.

I'm still pissed at President Stupid. Actually, that's too easy. I've never been convinced he's the moron so many think he is. He seems to me to be quite clever in many ways, only one of them having manipulated himself into the spot he now occupies. John Kerry once told me that he didn't think W was at all stupid, but what was troubling was that he seemed to lack any intellectual curiosity. Once he determined that something was what he believed it to be, there was no questioning, no analysis and no willingness to budge. It's the position of a frightened child - or an utter narcissist. (How's this. I looked up Narcissistic Personality Disorder: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.")

As Governor of Texas he presided over 152 executions and went so far as to mock the plea of one of them, Karla Faye Tucker, to a reporter. In Iraq, he's been responsible for over 4,000 U.S. military deaths, tens of thousands of injuries among our military personnel and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. Has there been any sign of empathy?

That smirk makes me nuts.

But forget him for the moment. Here we are in southeastern New Mexico, zipping long under the now-less-cloudy blue sky. The flat, scrub-covered land stretches as far as one can see on each side, and as I look to the left I note the entrance to a vast, fenced piece of property with a sign over the gate that reads 'Victor Perez Ranch.' When I say 'vast,' I mean that the road under the gate runs straight away from the highway and disappears over the horizon without a single structure in sight. Somewhere off in the far distance beyond the edge of the earth I envision a huge, elaborate ranch house and attendant structures looking like something out of the movie, "Giant."

Considering this as we roll along gets me thinking about the whole idea of owning property. As a city boy from a working class background, I know the satisfaction that comes from owning a home and a piece of property, but thinking of Victor Perez and his rancho, or people like the characters in "Giant," or so many others with huge landholdings - the kind of acreage that makes one understand the use of the word "spread" - gives me pause. It brings to mind the Native American concept of living in harmony with the land, perhaps as a visitor, or as one who is granted a kind of stewardship over it because it cannot be owned, as such; one lives in partnership with it.

Closing in on the Texas border we pass through the New Mexican town of Encino. Unlike the wealthy San Fernando Valley community of the same name, this Encino (meaning Evergreen or a kind of Oak tree) is a shambles. A virtual ghost town, to say it has fallen on hard times is to understate it by miles. Shuttered stores, overgrown yards, huge weeds covering the front of what was once a filling station mark some kind of tragedy in the lives of the people who once lived here -and the few that perhaps still do. Very sad to see this; shocking, in a way. And, not to make Victor Perez out to be a villain, because he's probably a nice man who worked hard for what he has, the disparity between some lives and others in this country is writ large for me in these two sets of circumstances.

Crossing into Texas the clouds have come together and turned gray. Soon there is a steady sprinkle on us that continues down to and through the town of Pecos, "Home of the World's First Rodeo," per the signs. And as we cross the Pecos River I note that Mule and I are no longer "west of the Pecos."

Rattling on down, I see that we again have two squares left on the gas gauge. Fort Stockton, where we'll hook up again with the Interstate 10 E, is about 55 miles away, so instead of stopping to fill up I figure we'll just sniff haughtily at the gas stations and keep right on going.

And we do.

Less than an hour later, as my attention is diverted to making the correct turn to get onto the Interstate, Mule hesitates and seems to lose power. Suddenly I'm hearing all kinds of beeps!

"What the hell…?"

"Mule can't run with no oats."

"What? But we had two full squares…!"

"Look again, smart guy. There's only one now and it's blinkin.' And that red triangle with the exclamation point in it? That's not a good thing."

Shit, the one remaining square is blinking its head off, there are red lights flashing on the dash and the damned car is beeping and slowing down.

"Damnit, Mule, you can't do this! Don't quit on me now! Not here, we're in the middle of the goddamned highway!"

"Not up to me. You're the hero wants to see how far you can go. Take a good look; this is it."

"No, come on! You're electric, what about that? Can't you run on the battery?"

"Whaddya think I been doin'? See that thing in the middle of the screen, the one says 'Battery'? It's s'posed to have four or five of them little blue lines across it; see how many it's got?"

There were two - and one was fading fast. We're putting along, ever more slowly, but at least there aren't any cars racing up behind us.

"Can't I charge it? Doesn't it charge when I put on the brakes?"

"You sure you want to do that, Sherlock?"

"No, no! Of course not! But if I take my foot off the gas?"

"You're the boss, boss."

We're literally creeping along. When I take my foot off the accelerator the blue line seems to brighten a bit, but it also makes us go slower - and if we go any slower…

"Jesus, Mule, there's a turnoff up ahead. Don't quit on me now."

"I'm losing my voice here…"

All kinds of scenarios are playing out in my head: pull off and hitch a ride to get some gas; push the damned car off the Interstate; flag someone down and explain… that I thought… well, see, these things don't use much gas… Uh huh, yes. Evidently they do need some once in a while.

But we creep forward and just make it to the turnoff. We're down under 10 miles an hour and I see, off on the other side of the Interstate, a sign for a gas station!

"Mule, look! Over there! Come on, pal, we can make it!"

"Don't call me pal," he wheezes.

Amazingly, we creep into the station and up to the pump. Just as I hit the brake, everything goes dead. Sweating and shaking with relief, I get out of the car and grab the pump. As the gas pours into the empty tank I think I hear a faint whisper - "Asshole!"

Gassed up and all paid for - and just to get back on her good side I washed the windshield - I wasn't sure what to expect, but crossed my fingers, put my foot on the brake and pushed the Power button. God bless her, she started up - no bells, no whistles, no mumbled imprecations. Maybe, I thought, all is forgiven.

Back on the 10E things looked pretty good. Texas is greener down here than I remembered and the etched walls and mesas to the north are very pretty. One had been eaten away to the degree that it looked like a pyramid - with a little pillbox hat on top. The speed limit on the Interstate down here in West Texas is 80 MPH, a number I don't remember seeing anywhere else.

Mule doesn't seem to mind it, so we press on. But I do need to check in somewhere with a TV so I can watch the Laker/Jazz game. They're playing in Utah, which can be tough, but the Lakers really need to put these guys away. Sonora, Texas, looks good. It's a ways down the line yet, but if I can get there and get a bite to eat before the game I should be OK. That'll leave us about a three-hour trip to get into Austin tomorrow.

Right, Mule?

Mule?

DAY EIGHT - Saturday, May 17, 2008

The first thing I do this morning is look out the peephole in the door to see if Mule is still there. She is, thank God. Hasn't spoken to me since that… slight mishap… and I wasn't sure she wouldn't steal off in the night. I didn't get a lot of sleep worrying about her. I apologized all over the place and promised that I'd never let the gas gauge get down below two squares again, but she still wouldn't talk. I'm hoping the fact that she's still out there means we're OK again.

Anyway, we made it to Sonora for the Laker/Jazz game last night. We're on Central time now, so it didn't start until 9:30 here and I think it was after midnight before it was over. I'll bet Utah wishes it had lasted even later as they were on a scary roll in the last few seconds, but time ran out and the Lakers won. Next it's the Spurs or the Hornets.

Mule starts up without a snort and we head out into the rain again, but the rolling hills are green and pretty and she perks right along, so I'm feeling pretty good. Rather than going down to San Antonio and then north we cut off 10E onto Highway 290 and make a beeline for Austin through the Texas Hill Country. I have to say I'm impressed. Even though I've been through it a number of times, I always expect Texas to be hot and dry and flat and brown. And it is, in parts, but this area is beautiful. The rain stops and it stays fairly cool as we cruise along between great groves of gorgeous, thick green trees separated by the occasional goat or horse ranch. I haven't seen any cattle for quite a while.

Crossing the Pedernales River (which Texans seem to want to pronounce PER-din-AH-less) I begin to suspect we're in LBJ country. And we are, it becomes clear, as we pass through Fredericksburg, which boasts the Lady Bird Johnson Park, and then Johnson City, where LBJ was born. Fredericksburg is a beautiful city, clean and well-kept, with street signs and store names indicating a German influence. Lots of tourists. Johnson City, on the other hand, boasts of the former president at every opportunity, but looks a bit the worse for wear.

Austin is a big place, bigger somehow than I had expected. Checking into the hotel I just have time for a quick change and then head out to a reception arranged by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty at a beautiful private home not too far from the University of Texas. A warm and friendly group is gathered, some of whom I met when I spoke at the TCADP conference here in January. This is a courageous bunch, taking on the death penalty in the most kill-happy state in the union, but they're dedicated, hard at work and making progress.

The district attorney here in Harris County, the most killing county in this most killing state, was recently run out of office in a scandal caused by the release, in court, of hundreds of emails he had sent from his office computer that exposed him as a womanizer, a cheater, and a racist. They're good at looking the other way, but even the good ol' boys couldn't ignore all that. To top it off, the Houston crime lab has been mired in a scandal of its own, with the discovery of hundreds of boxes of "misplaced" evidence concerning 8,000 cases dating from over 30 years ago.

Police are investigating. (!)

And in Dallas, a new district attorney is cooperating with a process of DNA-testing for potential innocence in a number of old cases in that jurisdiction which has resulted in 18 exonerations and caused an uproar that is having statewide ramifications.

Also, the Dallas Morning News, after years of unquestioning support for state killing, did a series of editorials investigating the subject and has now called for an end to capital punishment in Texas.

So, these good, if beleaguered, folks at the TCADP, who are doing everything they can to break their fellow Texans of this 'cultural' bias toward the death penalty are making strides and deserve all the support we can provide them. (See www.tcadp.org)

From the reception, Bob, a retired military officer and one of the leaders of the TCADP, leads me to the BookPeople Bookstore, very near the University (and right across from the home base of Whole Foods), for tonight's book event.

A very nice crowd of terrific folks are there and we have a good time. Before the event, a career Army man, leader of a Green Beret team, had pulled me aside and said how much M*A*S*H has meant to him and his family, who are all there to hear me. He's still in the Army, his wife is an Army nurse and their son is serving in Iraq. His daughter, still in college, is considering breaking ranks and becoming a veterinarian - "something to do with animals," anyway. Nice folks. Then another man cornered me; he's close to Magdaleno Rose-Avila, a good friend of mine and one of the premier voices for social justice in the country.

The presentation goes very well, with lots of questions about all the issues - and about M*A*S*H, of course - and at the end I introduce Bob, who will pass out brochures and happily answer any questions about the TCADP, which is co-sponsoring this evening's talk.

People line up to have me sign books, which is the routine. When I get to the end of this line, however, a tall, good-looking young man with dark hair hands me a book. When I ask his name, he says, "It's John. I think we're kind of related." "Really," I respond, "what's your last name?" "It's John Flynn," he says. "No kidding? Are you Joanne's son?" "Yes," he says, pointing to a lovely blonde woman who had been sitting in the front row for the whole event, "she's right here."

It was amazing! This trip has really brought people out of the woodwork, but this is stunning. My father's youngest brother, an Army Air Corps officer, was killed in an automobile accident shortly after the end of World War II and left behind his wife and baby daughter, Joanne. Gracie, his wife, left California and our families lost touch. About thirty years or so ago, my cousin Joanne had come to L.A. and contacted me and we met and visited for a while. She then left for Houston and we somehow lost contact again. I had tried to find her, but to no avail. And here, thirty years later, she was.

Unbelievable! Bob had made plans to take me to dinner at a natural food restaurant, so when Joanne asked if I'd go somewhere with them I told her of our plans and invited the two of them to join us. It turns out that she not only knew the restaurant, but was close to the owner, so we all went out to dinner and reconnected. And this time we won't lose touch.

Life, huh?

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DAY THREE AND FOUR: May 12 and 13, 2008

Posted by on May 13th, 2008

On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books). As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches.[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]


DAY THREE - Monday, May 12, 2008

OK, a new day and we're to head for El Paso, Texas. But this hybrid and I are starting off with a new relationship. First, I have to say I'm very impressed that the little line of squares that tells me how much gas has been used hasn't moved at all! None of them have disappeared! None! I only filled up once, in Tempe, after arriving there Saturday night and we've come over a hundred miles from Phoenix to get here (then more trying to find a place to eat dinner after the book gig yesterday afternoon when I got pretty well lost trying to find a much-touted place up in the hills on Skyline Drive, but I finally figured it out). So, if I read this gas-gauge-thing correctly, it says we got here from Phoenix without using any fuel at all!

Whatever, I'm impressed with this rig; I admit it. So, I've been thinking over our relationship and I've decided I haven't been fair. I've been looking at the hybrid as a car… like, you know, a car. But it's a hybrid. Like a mule. And like a mule it can do a lot of work, maybe as much work as a pack-horse, but it's not a horse, it's a mule. And a mule can be contrary and confusing and a pain in the ass, but if you don't expect it to be a horse you won't be surprised when it gets weird and obstinate. Right?

Right. So, off we go, the hybrid and I, on down 10E toward El Paso with, according to the little squares on the dash, a still-full tank of gas.

The land south of Tucson is very flat but doesn't seem to be peopled with as many Saguaros as before. In fact I don't see any. Maybe they're all at the convention up north. Before long the flat land gives way to a sort of rolling, undulating topography (don't you just love to use a word like that in a sentence?) and as I'm watching the speed, keeping an eye on the little squares (still all there) and noting the slight changes in the landscape, suddenly I hear three distinct beeps! With the first one I start to panic, with the second I look to see that the passenger seatbelt is still fastened from the other day, and with the third I begin to decelerate… But… there's no fourth! Just three damned beeps! And then nothing. Nothing at all. There appears to be no problem. So I take a deep breath and think about it. The beeps seemed to be slightly lower in tone than the A-bomb alert from Saturday. There's no damned reason for them. It's just trying to get to me. It's a mule.

After undulating for a few miles, we come around a bend and begin a long decent into a deep, wide valley. It's kind of amazing to see, because everything has been so relatively flat for the last couple of days I assumed we were at, like, sea-level, but this grade will probably bottom out at 500 to 1000 feet below where it started. And it's getting windy, pushing us around a bit. Mule doesn't like it.

Before long, we approach the Continental Divide. It seems funny to have the Continental Divide be so far west. We're only a bit more than 700 miles from the west coast, so you'd think the CD would be closer to the middle of the country. But go figure. It probably has more to do with the Rocky Mountains and which ocean the waters drain into.

The air is very brown down here. I saw that in Phoenix, too, making a snarky comment about smog, and my friend Rick said that a good part of it was dust from the desert floor kicked up by the wind. But, he added, smiling, it's also smog. Down here, as we settle into the floor of this valley, the dust is blowing pretty well and signs warn of dust storms and the possibility of zero visibility.

Pulling up into the hills on the other side of this broad valley there's a phenomenal area that looks like a giant's playground; instead of regular hills made up of solid masses of dirt and impacted stone, these are made of great piles of, rounded rocks that look like some huge kid played with them, rolled them around and stacked them. It's really quite spectacular.

Entering New Mexico it's dry and flat and windy as hell, with giant dust devils hundreds of feet high off to the side of the road twirling like brownish-red mini-cyclones. I note the political tone down here, writ large on a huge billboard that says "ONE NATION - UNDER GOD."

After some miles I feel the need for a bathroom-break. A couple of squares have disappeared by now, but there's no apparent need for gas, so I park by a truckstop. Inside, as I walk toward the restroom, three guys, two older and one younger, are behind the counter having a spirited conversation, with the young one saying, "It's comin', I'm just waitin' for it." The older of the three says, "These earthquakes and these storms…" I want to stop and listen, but can't, so go on into the men's room and wonder what they're talking about. When I come out, the young one is saying, "McCain's just gonna keep doing the same thing." The older one seems to be in agreement and adds, "Yeah, I don't know if Obama can do everything he says he will, but I'm willing to roll the dice."

Grinning with surprise, I go out, fire up the mule, get back on the highway and turn on the radio. Few stations are playing, but I find the dulcet tones of Rush Limbaugh and listen for as long as I can stand it. Clear Channel then provides The Choirboy, Sean Hannity, telling me they're "putting the Stop Hillary Express to bed and ratcheting up the Stop Obama Express." I consider calling him about the guys at the truck stop, but decide not to bother.

The wind blows us through Las Cruces and over the border into Texas and on to El Paso. Looking off to the south as you near the city, the incredible poverty of Juarez is just a stone's throw away, right down below the highway and across the Rio Grande. It's dramatic, and heartbreaking.

Pulling into the downtown hotel I look down and see that there are still four little squares on the gas-gauge. All the way from Phoenix with a stopover in Tucson and here we are in El Paso with gas to spare. This mule is skittish and contrary, but damn, it's practical.

The book event at Barnes and Noble here is a tonic. This whole celebrity thing continues to boggle my mind. Pulling into a strange city, knowing no one, and having a large group of strangers waiting, apparently happily, to see you is … well, it's hard to explain how it feels. Men and women, young and old, a mix of ethnicities, and they're all there with smiles on their faces. I'm reminded of the guy who once asked me, "How does it feel to have half a relationship formed with millions of people?" It feels good, very good, but it carries with it a certain responsibility. Clearly it's about M*A*S*H. We have in common a love for this show that became a social phenomenon and I'm happy to carry the banner for its message. But the embrace of it - and of me - the sense of personal relationship and appreciation, is almost overwhelming at times.

So I thank them for coming and talk a bit about the book, about my personal journeys and how my sense of social responsibility and the extraordinary luck I've had in my career intertwine, and then ask what they'd like to know. This evening's group is again a mix of people with different concerns, but a couple of them stand out. A young woman is here after driving, as I have, from Tucson. Her mother, she says, was upset about missing me there, so she's here to get me to sign a book for her mother and one for her father and is then going to drive all the way back. A bit stunned at this, but happy to oblige, I wanted to write something about the extraordinary lengths she'd gone to, but she wouldn't let me. She said she didn't want them to know she'd come all the way down here because she thought they'd be mad. Despite my protests, she took the two books and left to make the drive back. Amazing!

Then there was a question about the hope of meeting Shelley, which allowed me to apologize and explain her absence. This is followed by a voice from the back of the crowd, a Latino man who asks with a grin, "Did you ever live in San Diego?" Seeing something in his eyes, I said, "Not since I joined the Marines and went through Boot Camp there." And he said, "I know, I was there with you." He came up and produced a photo I haven't seen in 50 years, a group shot of all of us in Platoon 374 at MCRD, the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. What an incredible hoot! After Arturo and I talked for a bit, the young woman from Tucson was back, saying she'd called her brother and he was mad because she didn't get a book for him, so she needed a third. And now, she said, she was "busted" because her folks knew about her jaunt, so she wanted a picture with me to be able to show them.

This crowd was wonderful. We laughed and talked about all kinds of things. But this life is hard, sometimes, to square with reality. People reach out in the most incredibly generous ways, wanting to say hello, to express gratitude for what the show meant to them, to know a little something about what I'm doing and why I do it. It is deeply touching and so very humbling.

People from the El Paso Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty co-sponsored this event. A woman from an anti-poverty organization came. Two doctors and a nurse brought their sons to meet me because of what M*A*S*H meant to them. A man asked about the political scene and if I'd be willing to say who I was supporting for president. I said I wasn't sure it would be appropriate to say my candidate's name, but I could say it was very prominent in the news and that it wasn't McCain and it wasn't Clinton.

DAY FOUR - Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An easy day, travel only. Mule and I just have to get to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a bookstore event tomorrow night. Heading back into New Mexico on 10W, I decide to stop in Las Cruces and try to look up my old friend Blair, one of the guys from school who was in the club with Rick and me.

The wind is up again today and Las Cruces is covered with a cloud of brown dust. I call Blair hoping to see him for an hour or so, but get a machine. I leave a message explaining that I'm just passing through and hope to catch him, then drive around the city for a bit in the hope he'll call back, eventually scouting out a health food store where I pick up lunch. After another call and still no Blair, we hightail it up Interstate 25 North toward Santa Fe where I'm invited to stay with Eugenie and Bobby, friends from Los Angeles who have a home north of town.

This is new territory for me, never having driven up through the center of New Mexico before, and I'd been warned by a woman in El Paso that it was "desolate." Sparsely populated, certainly, and flat as hell for a while, but the terrain is covered with scrub brush and doesn't seem any more 'desolate' than the desert we've pushed through for the past few days. The wind keeps the dust flying and pushes Mule around a bit, but other than being attacked by the biggest tumbleweed I've ever seen there's nothing out of the ordinary. Mule behaves well as we climb gradually toward what look, through the dust, to be rolling hills.

Sean Hannity's nonsense helps pass the time as he exchanges what seems to be a new mantra with each caller: "You're a great American, Sean!" "You're a great American, Jack," or Bill, or Steve, or Zeke. (No, no Zekes.) The women callers seem to uniformly express how fearful they are at the possibility of an Obama presidency while the men, after assuring each other they are 'great Americans,' complain to Sean about McCain's apostasy. It seems he has betrayed the movement by admitting that there may be something after all to this global warming nonsense.

Between the "Stop Obama Express" and what now appears to be the 'Get McCain Back on the Tracks' campaign, Sean's got a lot of work to do. But he's up to it, Great Americans. With righteousness in his heart and God on his side he'll steer this country back to the legitimate Reagan-loving conservative cause. He's very strong in defense of the much-misunderstood George W. Bush, who will, "mark my words," be vindicated in the future; he'll go down in history as the president who protected us from terrorism, built up our defenses and put America back into a forward-leaning posture in the world.

Not only that, but in response to another Great American who described himself as a "charter member" of Rush's Operation Chaos, Hannity paid tribute to Limbaugh's genius (urging his dittoheads to cross over and vote for Hillary in the "Democrat" primaries to keep stirring the pot and create continuing havoc for them, maybe even to the point of causing "riots in the streets of Denver" during the "Democrat" convention), saying Chaos was the best thing he's ever done and claiming the strategy was responsible for Hillary Clinton's win in Indiana.

Having heard as much as I could stand, I hit the 'off' button and paid attention to the alternating hills and arroyos we were crossing as we climbed, noting in particular the wind- and water-scoured cliff faces that lead up to the now-more-numerous New Mexican mesas. Not desolate at all, but rather majestic testimony to the forces of nature and the passage of time.

As I near Albuquerque, Blair calls. He's sorry we missed, but he's been with his wife, Sylvia, in the hospital where she's being treated for an intestinal problem. She'll be OK, he's been assured, so we catch up a bit and promise to connect next time - hopefully at the reunion in July.

Once in Santa Fe I connect with Eugenie and Bobby. He meets me at a turnoff north of the city and leads me down a steep, twisting dirt road into the "hollow" where I'm quickly sheltered in the embrace of their fabulous adobe home.

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New Death Penalty Focus Chapter forms in the Inland Valley, CA

Posted by Stefanie on May 13th, 2008

The first meeting of the new Inland Valley Chapter of DPF is tonight! To find out more contact Constance at: sallyandmebv@yahoo.com .

Check out this article from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin that came out about the first meeting:

Anti-death penalty group to meet for first time in I.E.
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
05/08/2008
By Will Bigham, Staff Writer


An Inland Valley chapter of a prominent anti-death-penalty group has formed, and will meet for the first time next week.

The Inland Valley chapter of Death Penalty Focus will be the San Francisco-headquartered organization's 12th local chapter, all in California, said Stefanie Faucher, program director.

The new local chapter is holding its first meeting at 7 p.m. on May 13 at the Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd., said Constance Waddell, chairwoman of the local chapter.

Waddell said the local chapter already had about 20 members, most of whom are from Claremont. But the organization welcomes anyone in the larger Inland Empire region, she said.

"They really feel that they can be an active group that will engage the public, and have a debate about the issue of the death penalty," Faucher said.

Waddell said the group has already begun planning for a large meeting in September where they hope to attract prominent guest speakers.

In the future, the group may aim to make appearances at local schools and churches to speak about the death penalty, and may also lobby local county administrators and other government officials, Faucher said.

Upland resident Audrey Owens, a member of the local chapter, said she first became involved with Death Penalty Focus when she helped organize the Riverside leg of an 800-mile march to oppose the death penalty.

"(The death penalty) is not an absolute science in its application," said Owens, a deputy public defender for Riverside County. "Until it is, I would definitely oppose it."

Owens said the Inland Valley chapter will "attempt to raise the consciousness of what's going on with the death penalty."

"There is a lot of potential to actually get people to look at it," Owens added. "It's one of those issues that people want to turn away from."

Author: will.bigham@inlandnewspapers.com  or (909) 483-8553

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Death Penalty Focus releases a 20th Anniversary Report

Posted by Stefanie on May 13th, 2008
Death penalty Focus report cover

LETTER FROM THE BOARD PRESIDENT AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Dear Friends,

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Never has that statement resonated with us as it does now
that we are marking the 20th Anniversary of Death Penalty Focus. For two decades, the staff and Board of this organization have worked to educate the public about the brutality and injustice inherent in the death penalty system, and to mobilize people to
fight for human rights.

In this document, you will find information about the heroic men and women who make our work possible, as well as several exciting new projects we’ve launched to carry us toward the inevitable achievement of our goal of abolition.

Our longtime board member and friend, Rabbi Leonard Beerman, sometimes offers a bit of Rabbinic wisdom at board meetings to lift the mood:

A traveling merchant noticed a man sitting on the roof of a synagogue and called to him asking what he was doing. “I am waiting for the Messiah,” said the man confidently. “This must be very difficult work for you,” sympathized the merchant. “Well,” said the man on the roof, “The pay is low, but the work is steady!”

We’re thrilled to report that recent developments suggest our work is becoming unsteady. Thank you for your support throughout the years!

In peace,

Mike Farrell, President

Lance Lindsey, Executive Director

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DAY TWO: Sunday, May 11, 2008

Posted by on May 11th, 2008
Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus

On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books). As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are his tour dispatches.[TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]

Happy Mother's Day, sweetheart!

The day begins with an old friend. Rick and I grew up together and when I joined the Marines as a buck private he had the audacity to get an appointment to West Point. We stayed in touch for a while but lost contact over 30 years ago, only to reconnect because he heard mention of my being there and sent a message to the manager of Changing Hands, the bookstore last night.

A couple of hours over orange juice makes for a quick race through 30 years, but I've got to make tracks for Tucson. Now living in a house he built in the wonderfully named Carefree, Arizona, he seems to be doing well. Rick still has that same off-beat sense of humor I remember as a kid. And now that he knows of the yearly reunions of the club that protected and sustained us through our school years, he'll try to make it to the next one.

Back on 10E out of Phoenix, I'm reminded that the sheriff of Maricopa County is that cheap self-promotion machine, Joe Arpaio, the media-hog who dubs himself "America's Toughest Sheriff." I spent a day at his prison a few years ago with the old Bill Maher show and found him to be every bit the "megalomaniac, liar and bully" Harper's Magazine labeled him. Popular with the voters because he plays on their fears, his bluster and bravado keep his name in the press and get him re-elected. It's like Cheney and Bush playing the fear game with terrorism. Given to heaping abuse on those under his control, Arpaio plays into the idiotic notion that you can correct the behavior of inmates through humiliation and brutalization while diverting potential law-breakers with the threat of dehumanization. Scorned by human rights groups and those who champion decency, Arpaio is a blight on the very idea of "corrections" and an insult to intelligent law enforcement, just one step out of the cave and moving in the wrong direction.

Leaving the Superstition Mountains behind, I head down the long, flat highway through the Sonoran Desert toward the sharp, sawtoothed Santa Catalinas and, beyond them, Tucson. Along the way the occasional slopes to each side are dotted with a huge population of what to the casual observer might look like strange, tall beings waving hello. The Saguaro cactus is said to appear nowhere else on earth but in this southwestern desert.

I figure the least one can do is wave back.

Suddenly this car, to which I'm only slowly becoming accustomed, begins a rhythmic beeping. Alarming enough because a sudden outburst of beeping can't mean anything good as one is racing down the highway, it becomes even more frightening as the beeps speed up, becoming closer and closer together! In the movies, this means a bomb is about to go off. Frantic, I look around and see no signs of distress or alarm on the dash or anywhere else; I check my cell phone, though I know that's not it; and I begin to slow and pull over as the beeps reach a crescendo and, just as suddenly as they began, stop.

Goddamit! This car is messing with me! This is unnerving as hell. Then, panic subsiding, I move back into the lane and resume speed as I go over everything I can think of that might be responsible. Finally, on the far right side of the dash I see a red light indicating that the passenger seatbelt isn't fastened. No one being in the seat, I hadn't thought to fasten it, even though I did set one of my bags there. It's a light bag, but could that be it? And why, if so, did it wait until now to yell at me? Did it let me know when I started out and I somehow missed it? Was it stewing about it all this time and then suddenly decided to give me hell? Man, this car is one temperamental sucker! I'm going to have to be careful.

Credit where due, I did discover something very interesting about the car - actually very cool. In the middle of the dash is a screen that, if you mess with the buttons around it, gives you all kinds of confusing information, complete with even more confusing diagrams. It'll tell you how much mileage you're getting at any given moment; it offers a very complex picture of the power train, apparently explaining the system by which the car is sometimes powered by battery and sometimes by the regular-old-fashioned-internal-combustion-engine. These things are just obscure enough to drive a newcomer to the world of hybrids a bit crazy, yet intriguing enough to pull your attention away from the road and get you killed. But that's not the cool part. The cool part is when you pull up the funky little plastic knob on the short stick and put the car in reverse (after, of course, putting your foot on the brake), the screen in the center of the dash becomes a picture of what's behind you! So you can see where you're going as you back up! Very cool! Though because the picture is a bit distorted I still prefer to turn and look out the back window. But it is cool.

Coming into Tucson I make my way to the Barnes and Noble Bookstore where I'm to do my thing - this one an afternoon gig. Since it's Mother's Day I doubt there will be a large crowd, but one never knows. Being a bit early, I check in and then go to a bar across the parking lot to watch most of the first half of the Lakers/Jazz fourth game. Tied at the half by one of Kobe's impossible shots. (I later learn we lost in overtime.)

Back in the store I was surprised to find a very nice crowd of over a hundred people, including some from the Coalition of Arizonans Against the Death Penalty and a few others with whom I had worked in the Sanctuary movement in the '80s. The movement, started by John Fife, minister of Tucson's Southside Presbyterian Church, a Quaker named Jim Corbett and a few nuns, priests, other clergy and lay-people, believed that those coming across the border fleeing murder, torture and mayhem in El Salvador and Guatemala deserved to be treated humanely and given shelter - as international law requires - rather than labeled 'communist' and sent back to their deaths. The Sanctuary movement became a modern version of the 'underground railway' from the days of slavery, ultimately involving more than 500 churches and synagogues nationwide. And for their trouble, these simple, decent people were arrested, tried, convicted and, probably because of embarrassment on the part of authorities forced to carry out the Reagan Administration's paranoiac anti-communist zealotry, sentenced mostly to five years of probation.

Today, John Fife and many of these people are still at it, having formed the Samaritan Patrol, part of the No More Deaths movement. They go out and provide food, water and sometimes directions to impoverished people attempting to make their way across the desert in search of work. The goal is to protect these poor folks from death by dehydration or starvation and occasionally to provide witness and help them avoid confrontation by Minutemen and others inspired by the racist raving of the Lou Dobbses, Bill O'Reillys and Tom Tancredos intent on saving America from "mongrelization."

Again, we spend an hour and a half or so talking about my book, Hollywood, the death penalty, politics, this bloody awful war, and a lot about M*A*S*H.

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