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California Just Moved Its Next Presidential Primary Forward By Three Months

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In an attempt to increase California’s influence over the country’s presidential primaries, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Wednesday afternoon legislation that moves the state’s presidential primary date forward by several months.

This means that California’s next primary will be held on March 3, 2020, placing it fourth in the caucus and primary line after Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Though California won’t be the only state voting on that date, because of its size, it will certainly be the most influential.

“We have a greater responsibility and a greater role to promote a different sort of agenda at the national level,” said state senator Ricardo Lara, one of the law’s authors, to the Los Angeles Times. “We need to have a greater influence at the national level.”

California’s last presidential primary was held on June 7, 2016, by which point then-candidate Donald Trump had already clinched enough delegates to secure the GOP nomination. The law, which had bipartisan support in the state legislature, is intended to make California less of an afterthought during the presidential primary process. Lawmakers hope moving the primary date forward will force candidates to actively campaign in California—instead of treating the state as a fundraising piggybank.

There’s also wide speculation that the bill could help some potential California candidates in the Democratic party’s 2020 primary, notably Senator Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Moving the state’s primary forward means the state will lose 70 delegates at the next Democratic National Convention. In the past, the DNC has offered California a 70-delegate incentive to keep the notoriously difficult-to-campaign-in state from holding its primary until late in the nomination process. Even so, California will remain the heaviest state in the primary process.

“The Golden State will no longer be relegated to last place in the presidential nominating process,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement. “California’s primary will officially be in prime time. Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country’s highest office.”

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Irenes
53 days ago
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Technicalleigh
56 days ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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When Prosecutors Decide Who Keeps Their Public Defender, Injustice Is Certain

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In Miami, the constitutional right to counsel is under attack.

Lazaro Rodriguez was forced to represent himself at his criminal trial in Miami, another victim of the kind of assembly line justice that has ruined too many lives.

The case against Rodriguez involved a traffic stop during the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 2015. He and his partner were pulled over for speeding by Miami police. When he protested the ticket and his treatment by the officers, they arrested him. As they were handcuffing him, his pants fell to the ground. When he tried to pull them up, the officers charged him with one felony count of threatening an officer and two misdemeanor counts of resisting an officer without violence.

The next day, the court appointed an attorney from the Miami-Dade public defender’s office to represent Rodriguez because he could not afford counsel. The public defender convinced the judge that Rodriguez should be released on low bail, in part by arguing that the felony charge of threatening an officer was baseless. She then asserted Rodriguez’s right to a jury trial, filed a written demand for discovery, and requested to depose the state’s witnesses. Following the hearing, the public defender interviewed Rodriguez to begin developing a list of potential witnesses and mapping out a defense strategy.

At the next court date in January 2016, the prosecution dropped the felony charge and one of the misdemeanor resisting charges. This left only one misdemeanor charge, which created a problem for the prosecution. Under Florida law, resisting arrest requires a valid arrest. But if Rodriguez’s felony charge was bogus, what was the basis for the arrest he supposedly resisted?

With its case falling apart, the prosecution did something drastic: It asked presiding Judge Andrew Hague to dismiss Rodriguez’s public defender on the grounds that it would not seek jail time. This meant Rodriguez was no longer entitled to a lawyer.

What happened to Rodriguez is fundamentally unfair. But it is not yet unconstitutional.

Since the vast majority of misdemeanor cases in Miami-Dade County do not end with a conviction (or subsequent jail time) the prosecutor’s decision not to seek jail time was a minor concession. The public defender objected, arguing that Florida law required Judge Hague to determine whether her removal would disadvantage Mr. Rodriguez. The judge ignored this request and discharged the lawyer.

On April 27, 2016, Rodriguez had his day in court, representing himself. Things did not go well. Rodriguez unwittingly waived his right to a jury trial after Judge Hague failed to explain what was happening. The prosecution’s case rested entirely on the testimony of the arresting officers. But because Rodriguez did not know how to follow up with the public defender’s requests for discovery and depositions, he was unprepared to challenge the officers’ testimony. To make matters worse, Judge Hague repeatedly and loudly berated Rodriguez for not knowing how to ask questions like a lawyer.

After a trial that lasted barely 90 minutes, Judge Hague convicted Rodriguez of resisting arrest and imposed a fine of $358. But the judge failed to inform Rodriguez that he had a right to appeal or that he would have the right to a lawyer for an appeal. So Rodriguez did not appeal and remains a convicted criminal to this day.

What happened to Rodriguez is fundamentally unfair. But it is not yet unconstitutional.

Nearly 40 years ago, the United States Supreme Court held in Scott v. Illinois that the Sixth Amendment, despite guaranteeing the right to counsel “in all criminal cases,” only applies to misdemeanor defendants who receive a sentence of incarceration. Scott helped lay the foundation for the assembly-line justice practiced in most misdemeanor courts today, where thousands of defendants are convicted every day without having a lawyer.

Even without jail time, these convictions can irrevocably damage a life. The consequences of having a criminal record can include deportation, loss of employment or housing, and ineligibility for crucial public benefits, what many refer to as a “civil death.”

These civil consequences are real, and they are insidious. That is why every person accused of a crime must have a lawyer. That is the plain language of the Sixth Amendment. It is also required by the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. The quality of justice a person receives should not depend on wealth.

A defendant with more resources than Lazaro Rodriguez would have been able to pay for an attorney to defend against the charges. That's why we’re suing Judge Hague and other officials and demanding that they invalidate Rodriguez’s conviction and finally give him a fair trial with a lawyer.

Ending the prosecution’s power to decide who deserves a public defender is a critical part of protecting the right to a fair trial for everyone, not just the wealthy.

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Irenes
53 days ago
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Technicalleigh
54 days ago
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SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
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Talking to people at conferences

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I’m currently at the Halmstad Summer School on Testing, where I know literally nobody. This means that I’m having to exercise one of my most useful and hardest won conference skills: Going up to new people and talking to them.

I can’t claim any special ability at doing this. If anything, I’m bad at it. But I started out terrible at it, so I thought I’d offer some advice for other people who are terrible at it and want to become less terrible (which, based on observational evidence at conferences and talking to friends, is a lot of us).

The big thing to know is that it’s not complicated (which is not the same as saying it’s easy). The following procedure works for me basically 100% of the time:

  1. Go up to somebody who isn’t currently talking to someone and doesn’t look like they’re busy.
  2. Say “Hi, I’m David” (you may wish to substitute your own name here if it is not also David).
  3. Make conference appropriate small talk.
  4. Part ways at a suitable juncture (e.g. beginning of next talk), and if you enjoyed each other’s company you can naturally say hi again later, and if not you won’t.

If you’re like me, that probably sounds impossible, but it’s actually surprisingly doable once you manage to suppress the associated feeling of mortal dread.

The thing that helped me the most was understanding what caused me stress (going up to groups where I didn’t know anyone) and just not doing that, which is why it’s about finding single people to go up and talk to. I generally don’t approach groups unless I already know some of the people in the group.

The second thing that helps is understanding that this behaviour is appropriate, socially acceptable, and often outright welcome.

You are at an event where a large part of the purpose is to meet people. Therefore introducing yourself to strangers is a thing that is part of the event and does not need an excuse. Also, the people around you are probably also struggling to do the same. By picking someone else who is also not talking to people, there’s a good chance you’ve found someone who is struggling the same way you are and have done them a massive favour by removing that struggle.

Is it sometimes a bit awkward? Yeah. Is it the perfect approach? No. But it works reliably, I am able to do it, and it does not rely on flawless execution to go smoothly. It is very unlikely to go terribly, and it will probably go well.

It’s still anxiety inducing, but for me the knowledge that this is acceptable behaviour and nothing bad is going to happen is enough to take it from terrifying to merely intimidating, at which point it’s fairly feasible to just force myself to do it.

Specific tips:

Picking who to talk to is tricky, but the nice thing about this just being a brief introductory conversation is that you don’t have to do it well. I don’t have a particularly good algorithm, but vaguely use the following guidelines:

  • People you’ve met in passing but not really properly talked to are an easy place to start.
  • If I see a speaker or someone I vaguely know something about, I’ll tend to default to them (as someone who regularly speaks at conferences, I can confirm speakers are just as socially awkward about doing this as the rest of us and will appreciate you talking to them).
  • I often preferentially try to talk to women or other people who are in a minority for the conference (obviously at some conferences women won’t be a minority, but I work in tech where sadly they usually are). This advice works better if you are yourself in a minority at the conference, but I figure that if people are feeling isolated it’s still better to have someone to talk to who isn’t going to be a jerk (which I’m told I’m mostly not), and they’re at least as likely (probably more) to be interesting people to talk to as anyone else.
  • Other than that, I just pick a random person nearby.

Once you’ve picked a person and introduced yourself, it’s time for the dread small talk. Fortunately, although small talk in general is hard, conference small talk is much easier. There are two reasons for this:

  • When you ask “What do you do?” the chances are good that it’s something relevant to the conference, and thus you have common ground to talk about.
  • You can always talk about the talks at the conference – which they have enjoyed, if there are any they are particularly looking forward to, etc.

The parting ways aspect is important largely to avoid the problem of finding one person to talk to and then latching on to them. It’s doubly important for me because of a moderate amount of insecurity about seeming to do that even when I’m probably not. Fortunately conferences come with a natural rhythm, so it’s fairly easy to do.

Another reason why it helps is that it keeps the entire interaction fairly low cost – you’re not committing to a new best friend for the entire conference, you’re just meeting someone new and having a brief chat with them.

So that’s how I introduce myself to new people. After that, I try to “pay it forward” in a couple of ways:

  • I try to introduce people I’ve talked to to each other. e.g. if I’m talking to someone and someone I’ve previously interacted with wanders past I say hi to them and ask “Have you two met?”
  • If I’m in a group (or even just talking to one other person) and see someone awkwardly standing around, I try to bring them into it (a “Hi, I’m David. Come join us” is usually sufficient).

Other people are also struggling with this, and helping them out is a good deed, which is the main way I do it, but conveniently it’s also a good way to meet people. It’s much easier to meet someone by bringing them into a group than it is to approach them on your own, and by forming a group you’ll tend to get other people members of the group know agglomerating on. Even if you don’t talk to them now, talking to them later becomes easier.

 

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Irenes
152 days ago
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*sigh* Good advice. Scary, but good.
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I Was Taken From My Family and Jailed For 57 Days Because I Am Poor

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No one should be arrested for being too poor to pay traffic tickets. I was, and I’m suing so it can’t happen to anyone else.

“I don’t care if you have one, two, three, four, five, six, or seven kids.”

This is what the judge told me when I tried to explain that I was a single mom with seven kids. I could not afford to pay $100 a month toward traffic tickets. The judge threatened me with jail. I was scared.

This all started when I got two traffic tickets in March last year in Lexington County, South Carolina. I did something wrong. I drove without a tag light and on a suspended license. I wanted to go to court and make it right. But when I got there, the judge treated me like I was nothing. She sentenced me to pay more than $2400 for both tickets — more than the law allowed, my attorneys told me. I did not have the money to pay that day, so the judge decided that I had to pay $100 each month.

I knew I could not afford that. So, I explained that I could pay $50 each month. The judge wasn’t hearing it. She said, “I want my money on the twelfth.” She made clear that if I missed one payment, she would have a warrant out for my arrest.

I did everything I could to pay my traffic fines. I made five payments in a row. But then I started missing payments when I could not pay the court and support my family at the same time.

In the fall of 2016, one of my sons had to get jaw surgery. While I took care of him in the hospital for a week, I could not work. Also, my employer at the time was paying me with checks that kept bouncing, which meant I wasn’t getting paid when I should have been.

After looking for weeks, I finally found a better job. I planned to use my first pay check to get back on track to paying my fine. I was just waiting for that first check.

Then, on a Saturday morning in February, officers came to my home at around 7 a.m. My 13-year-old son came into my bedroom and told me, “The sheriff is out there.” I went to the front door and saw sheriff’s department deputies through the peephole.

I didn’t want to open the door. My kids were there. But I let the deputies in. An officer informed me that there was a warrant for my arrest. I got dressed and sent my 13-year-old to take the trash out. I didn’t want him to see me in handcuffs and taken to jail.

At the jail, officers gave me a copy of the warrant used to arrest me. It said that I needed to pay $1907.63 — the entire amount I still owed in traffic fines and fees — or serve 90 days in jail.

There was no way that I could pay. I did not want my children to go without food, electricity, and rent. And I had not yet gotten my first paycheck at my new job.

For 57 days, I was locked away in jail, away from my family. I cried every day. I prayed that my kids and grandkids would be okay. I could not be with my family when my cousin died. I could not be with them on my son’s 17th birthday or on my granddaughter’s first birthday. I lost my new job and the chance to get a promotion and a raise. I spent my 40th birthday in jail.

But even worse was the fear I had every day that my 13-year-old son would be taken away from me by the Department of Social Services. It made me feel sick to think that I could lose him while I was in jail because I could not afford to pay traffic fines.

Luckily my older children took on responsibility to make sure that the youngest was in good care. I am so grateful I did not lose him.

Since I was released on that 57th day in jail, I have been with my family. They are the light of my life. But I lost so much while I was in jail. I have been struggling to find a job, and I have even more bills because I couldn’t work in jail. It’s been hard.

I did everything I could to pay my fines, and I was still locked up because I was poor. I don’t think being poor should be a reason to be sent to jail, to be taken from your family. So I decided to bring a lawsuit against Lexington County and the people responsible so that no one else will be forced to spend weeks away from their family because they cannot afford to pay traffic tickets.

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Technicalleigh
175 days ago
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Debtors' prisons still exist.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
Irenes
171 days ago
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'Clock boy' discrimination case thrown out by Texas judge

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The judge rules that the evidence was "factually deficient" to prove racial or religious discrimination.
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Technicalleigh
188 days ago
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Utter bullshit.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
Irenes
187 days ago
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"This Isn't Science": We Have No Idea How Much Pain Inmates Feel During Execution

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Just weeks after Arkansas attempted to execute eight men in 11 days, lethal injection in back in the news. On Tuesday, Georgia is scheduled to execute J.W. Ledford for a 1992 murder. Texas was slated to put Tilon Carter to death on Tuesday as well, but he received a stay last week after the state's court of criminal appeals decided to hear his claims that the jury was misled.

Georgia will use a controversial one-drug protocol—a heavy dose of pentobarbital, an anesthetic that critics say can fail to render inmates fully unconscious. On Monday, Ledford requested that Georgia execute him by firing squad, instead. He argues that a pain medication he takes has altered his brain chemistry so much that the pentobarbital may not work properly, leading to excruciating pain. (Texas was planning to use pentobarbital to kill Carter, as well.)

Americans generally accept the claim that lethal injection is a humane and painless way to kill convicted murderers. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 65 percent of Americans believe that lethal injection is the "most humane" form of capital punishment. According to a 2015 YouGov poll, just 18 percent of respondents described lethal injection as "cruel and unusual punishment," which is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. But, despite its widespread use, there is virtually no scientific data to suggest that lethal injection is humane. There's been very little research done on the effects of lethal injections on humans at all—but the science that is available suggest that inmates may actually experience immense pain before dying.

On a recent episode of our Inquiring Minds podcast, Kishore Hari interviews Teresa Zimmers, an associate professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine. Zimmers, who has spent years researching lethal injection, is sharply critical to the ways in which states kill the condemned.

"What we have here is masquerade," says Zimmers. "Something that pretends to be science and pretends to be medicine but isn't."

Prior to 1972, when the Supreme Court halted executions nationwide, states used a variety methods to put inmates to death, including gas chambers and the electric chair. After the court ruled in 1976 that the death penalty did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, an Oklahoma state legislator called the state's medical examiner, Jay Chapman, and asked him if he could come up with a new and humane way to execute prisoners. Chapman has said that he initially thought he wasn't qualified for the task, but he nonetheless proposed using fatal doses of pharmaceuticals that are typically used to put patients.

Chapman came up with a three-drug protocol: Sodium thiopental, an anesthetic to put the inmate to sleep; pancuronium bromide, which causes paralysis; and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Other states soon adopted this protocol, but there was never much scientific evidence showing it was truly humane.

"It's not at all clear that the protocol works as advertised," explains Zimmers.

In 2007, Zimmers was part of a team that analyzed execution records from California and North Carolina and found that lethal injection might actually lead to painful chemical asphyxiation. Zimmers' team suggested that the thiopental dosages being uses might not be high enough to induce sleep and that potassium chloride might not reliably stop the heart. The potential result: a paralyzed inmate who remains aware while dying from the inability to breathe. Zimmers' paper concluded:

[O]ur findings suggest that current lethal injection protocols may not reliably effect death through the mechanisms intended, indicating a failure of design and implementation. If thiopental and potassium chloride fail to cause anesthesia and cardiac arrest, potentially aware inmates could die through pancuronium-induced asphyxiation. Thus the conventional view of lethal injection leading to an invariably peaceful and painless death is questionable.

Beginning around 2009, European pharmaceutical companies began refusing to sell their drugs to American states that intended to use them to put inmates to death. The shortages led to a rush to find different lethal injection methods, such as replacing the sodium thiopental with a drug called midazolam or using a single fatal dose of an anesthetic.

And just like with the original cocktail, these new lethal injection techniques have been developed with little scientific rigor. "There's been a very active substitution of drugs into this protocol with, of course, no corresponding investigation," says Zimmers.

When Oklahoma used the one-drug protocol of pentobarbital in the execution of Michael Wilson in January 2014, the inmate's last words were, "I feel my whole body burning." A few months later, the state tried to put Clayton Lockett to death using a three-drug protocol that included the anesthetic midazolam. Lockett mumbled and writhed on the gurney, before dying of a massive heart attack about 40 minutes after the procedure began. Oklahoma's executions are now on hold.

Despite the controversy surrounding midazolam, last month Arkansas rushed to execute eight men in 11 days when its supply of the drug was set to expire. After a series of legal setbacks for the state, only four were put to death. The last man to die, Kenneth Williams, reportedly convulsed, jerked, lurched, and coughed for 10 to 20 seconds after prison officials administered midazolam.

Often, the debate over capital punishment centers around the morality of government-sponsored killing or the potential for an innocent person to be executed. But Zimmers suspects that for many people, support for the death penalty relies on the notion that states are using compassionate, scientifically validated method to kill inmates. That notion, Zimmers argues, is simply wrong.

"They should understand that this isn't science," she says. "This is a pretense of science."

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

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Technicalleigh
192 days ago
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No more executions. More killing solves nothing, it only creates more victims.
SF Bay area, CA (formerly ATL)
Irenes
192 days ago
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