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News :: Civil & Human Rights

Former San Quentin prison warden opposes the execution (on 1/17) of Clarence Ray Allen

Allen's capital crimes were repugnant, but they bear little on the assessment of the threat he poses. They occurred long ago and under very different circumstances.... It will be particularly difficult for the execution of Allen to be accomplished in a dignified way.... Must we insist on dragging a dying man out of the hospital just so we can inject the chemicals that will kill him a little bit sooner? ...sparing Allen from execution would be an act of decency, compassion and justice.



Why Clarence Ray Allen's life should be spared

Dan Vasquez

Friday, January 6, 2006

While warden of San Quentin for 10 years, I supervised reactivation of the gas chamber and California's first two executions in the modern era. I unhesitatingly served Clarence Ray Allen, who is scheduled to die Jan. 17, with his first death warrant for ordering three murders from his prison cell in 1980. I firmly believe that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment and that the state of California has the right to enforce its criminal laws. But I also believe it must be administered in accordance with civilized standards of decency to maintain its integrity. Because the execution of Allen would now be inhumane and violate those standards, I urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency in this extraordinary case.

When I visited Allen in December and reviewed his prison file, I found a man who presents absolutely no risk to prison staff or public safety. Legally blind, hard of hearing and of frail voice, he cannot even stand up by himself. He needs a walker to move around within his cell and a wheelchair everywhere else. In the glassed visiting cubicle where I met with him, he was truly a pathetic sight: aged, downcast, oblivious to his surroundings, cuffed to his wheelchair and utterly defeated.

Furthermore, Allen has been virtually a model prisoner on Death Row in the nearly quarter century he has been confined there. During my tenure, he was known as a compliant and trouble-free inmate on the row, and his subsequent record upholds that reputation. Staff interactions with him, which I observed both as warden and more recently, have always been of mutual courtesy and respect. No inmate can fake such good behavior for so many years.

Allen's capital crimes were repugnant, but they bear little on the assessment of the threat he poses. They occurred long ago and under very different circumstances. Time and age have wrought unusual changes in Allen, now 75 years old. After near brushes with death from heart attacks and execution dates, he is looking to make peace at the end of his life, whether spared execution or not. As one who dedicated his career to the field of corrections and has considerable knowledge of inmates and their behavior, I find it unthinkable that Allen would engage in conduct remotely resembling that reflected in his convictions.

There is no question in my mind that long-term confinement in the substandard conditions of Death Row, coupled with San Quentin's long-standing problems with the delivery of adequate medical care, have contributed immeasurably to Allen's declining health. As warden, I found those conditions unacceptable and recommended construction of a new facility. When that was not undertaken, we were required to house the Death Row overflow in the prison's East Block, although it is an outmoded, antiquated five-tiered cellblock unsafe for staff and inmates alike -- and totally inappropriate for the housing of condemned prisoners. This is where Allen has been housed for years -- ironically, because his disabled condition made the traditional Death Row no longer safe for him.

Through all these pressures, Allen has maintained his conforming conduct, which I have every confidence he will sustain as long as he lives. If he were relieved of his death sentence and placed in regular prison housing, prison policy dictates that he spend at least the following five years -- considerably longer than he is likely to live -- in close custody in a maximum-security prison. This confinement would provide not only more than enough security to house him safely, but also the modern resources for attending to his needs.

It will be particularly difficult for the execution of Allen to be accomplished in a dignified way. It is impossible to wheel him into the chamber. Entry with a walker would be problematic, but the manacles in which the condemned man is led to the execution chamber make even that aid impossible. Allen will literally have to be carried into the chamber for his execution. That will demean not only Allen but also the prison staff, who will be required to participate in the execution of a man too old and feeble even to enter the chamber under his own power.

Allen's situation presents us with the question of how infirm does a human being have to be before we decide that we should not execute him. Must we insist on dragging a dying man out of the hospital just so we can inject the chemicals that will kill him a little bit sooner? Even for those of us who are tough on crime, there comes a point where forbearance is appropriate.

Allen's execution now would be a shameful act. Given his age, his infirmities, the punishment of the many years he has already spent on Death Row, his excellent behavior during that time and the very little natural life he has remaining, sparing Allen from execution would be an act of decency, compassion and justice.

Dan Vasquez served as warden of San Quentin Prison from 1983 to 1993.

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Commentary :: Police State

Asylum America: Bush’s Charade

Pat Robertson, noted American Christian fundamentalist and mental deficient, claims that Ariel Sharon is being punished by God for “dividing? Israel. Pat Robertson remains in ‘care’ and is happy to reside in the most affluent psychiatric institution in the world, the USA.

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News :: Media Criticism

Wireless World: Carriers losing focus?

Exploitative robber barons treat customers poorly and still expect them to buy more.Wireless carriers have lost their focus and are concentrating on the wrong priorities, like trying to recruit as many new subscribers as possible, rather than properly serving those customers they have already contracted with, experts tell United Press International's Wireless World.
Mobile-phone-network operators are under competing pressures this year. New technologies are coming to market, like 3G cellular networks, next-generation network Internet Protocol multimedia subsystems -- so called NGN/IMS technologies. By Gene Koprowski

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News :: Education & Youth

FL Supreme Court Strikes Down School Vouchers

Fla. Supreme Court strikes down school vouchers
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
Florida's highest court on Thursday handed public school advocates a decisive victory, striking down a Florida program that gives students taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers to private schools. It was the first time a state Supreme Court has said states have a duty to educate students in public schools.

"The public never benefits from the government protecting a monopoly," said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
By Joe Burbank, Orlando Sentinel via AP
The ruling acknowledged as well that vouchers have the potential to drain funding from needy public schools.

The vouchers, known as Opportunity Scholarships, are a cornerstone of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's education agenda, but in a 5-2 opinion the Florida Supreme Court rebuked Bush's approach, declaring the program unconstitutional and saying it funnels tax dollars into "separate private systems parallel to and in competition with the free public schools." Two Bush appointees dissented.

Established in 1999, his program was the nation's first statewide voucher system, allowing students in public schools with chronically low test scores to switch to private schools. Voucher supporters nationwide have called it a promising model.

In a statement, Bush said he would "explore all legal options" to preserve the program, including amending the state constitution.

"The public never benefits from the government protecting a monopoly," he said.

The court allowed the program's 733 students to continue attending private schools until the end of the school year.

Unaffected are two other Florida voucher plans: One that pays for 16,144 disabled students to attend private schools and another that gives tax credits to businesses that donate to a scholarship fund allowing 13,497 low-income students to attend private schools.

But Thursday's ruling ultimately could affect these and other voucher programs. The court found that taxpayer support for private schools in general is unconstitutional because Florida's constitution requires "a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools." Private schools aren't "uniform when compared with each other or the public system," the justices wrote. They're also exempt from public standards on teacher credentials and requirements to teach about a wide range of subjects, such as civics, U.S. and world history and minorities' and women's contributions to history.

"It has all the themes we've been advocating for years," said Robert Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association. "It really has all the themes of the values of public education over private education."

School-choice advocates said the ruling will hurt poor children whose parents can't afford to flee low-performing public schools.

"Rather than locking ourselves into a system that produces such appalling results at such enormous cost, Americans — in Florida and elsewhere — should be trying to find a better, more flexible, more efficient approach to organizing schools," said Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

A state appeals court had ruled that the system violated the separation of church and state in the Florida Constitution, but the state Supreme Court did not address that

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News :: Civil & Human Rights : Police State : Transportation

FBI questions jet passenger at S.J. airport

FBI questions jet passenger at S.J. airport
By Kimra McPherson, Elise Ackerman and Rodney Foo
Mercury News

FBI agents and San Jose police spent several hours questioning a Santa Cruz man Wednesday after a fellow passenger on a Frontier Airlines jet from Denver glimpsed ``suicide bomber'' written on the man's journal.

Convinced the man wasn't part of terrorist plot, authorities then set him free.

``Whatever the person wrote in their journal was not against the law,'' police spokesman Enrique Garcia said.

But the writing was enough to alarm a passenger who notified a crew member on Flight 169 about 40 minutes after take-off that the man was acting bizarrely, writing in his journal and clutching his backpack.

Authorities boarded the plane and escorted the 36-year-old man off the jet after it landed safely at Mineta San Jose International Airport with 112 passengers aboard.

The legal distinction between writing the words ``suicide bomber'' and saying it aloud on a plane is all about ``context,'' said Special Agent LaRae K. Quy, spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco office.

If someone shouted ``bomb,'' Quy said, authorities would be able to quickly discern the intent.

But written words aren't so obvious. For example, authorities would have to determine who wrote the offending words and parse its meaning, she said.

Are the words the name of a book? A movie? The name of a band? What is the person's background?

Quy couldn't say Wednesday whether investigators believe the man had written ``suicide bomber'' on or in any part of the journal.

However, she noted, there was ``no reason to believe there was any sort of terrorist activity going on there.''

Wednesday's incident served to underscore the ongoing struggle to balance air traffic safety concerns with an individual's constitutional rights in a post-Sept. 11 world.

But Garcia said police and federal agents had little choice but to check out the passenger.

``It was alarming enough to concern that passenger about their safety and the safety of everyone on that flight,'' Garcia said.

``How do you know if he doesn't have a weapon or if somebody else is working in concert with him?''

The plane touched down in San Jose about 10:10 a.m., and was steered away from the two terminals, said San Jose Sgt. Nick Muyo. FBI agents and police officers then boarded the plane and detained the man.

Authorities suspected the man might be under the influence of alcohol or drugs as they interviewed him and are awaiting toxicology tests results, Garcia said.

The jetliner was returned to service, airport spokeswoman Marina Renneke said. Frontier's return flight to Denver departed about half an hour late, but no other planes were delayed.

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News :: Media Criticism

The Web: Women vs. men onlineh

Sexists cannot exploit women online as much as offline.

CHICAGO, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Men and women use the Internet rather differently, with women employing e-mail more often than men to communicate with family and friends, but with men logging online more frequently to obtain news or sports updates, experts tell United Press International's The Web.

A report released last week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that men pursue many Internet activities more intensively than women and that men are still "first out of the blocks" in trying the latest technologies. By Gene Koprowski

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Commentary :: Environment & Food

Obvious Options

The forces that divide humanity issue from religion, tribalism, racism and self-interest. The fact that right wing groups emphasise the ‘virtues’ of these principles clearly identifies their support base and driving principles. It would seem obvious that an assault on the principles that create undesirable circumstances is preferable to dealing with the (disastrous) consequences after the event.

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News :: Police State

Undercover officers monitor New year's planners

SANTA CRUZ — Planners of a downtown New Year's Eve parade say two undercover Santa Cruz police officers "infiltrated" public planning meetings for the grass-roots event.
On Friday, Santa Cruz police Lt. Rudy Escalanate admitted that the plainclothes officers attended the meetings, but he had a much different take on their attendance.

Santa Cruz canceled First Night celebrations this year, but the alternative "Last Night Santa Cruz DIY Parade" was created to take its place. It begins at 6 p.m. today at Laurel Street and Pacific Avenue.

In planning meetings in a Santa Cruz home, which were announced on the group's Web site, two men attended three meetings and did not let on they were police officers, giving false names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, said Wes Modes of Felton, an artist and carpenter who helped plan the parade.

Modes said that was an infiltration and said the officers were "profiling" people at the meeting.

Modes' charges brought an incredulous denial from Escalante, who said the officers did not profile anyone or "infiltrate" anything, but attended a public meeting about a public event with safety in mind.

The two plainclothes officers were photographed at a meeting, and their images were e-mailed to the Sentinel on Friday with a press release.


"Since 9/11, we've created a culture in which security is more important than liberty," Modes stated in the release.

Escalanate said officers noticed the meetings on the Web site and decided to go, and that officers customarily attend planning meetings for city events.

"If it was a meeting about First Night or Halloween or the Fourth of July we'd be there," Escalanate said. "If it's a public meeting about a public event on a public thoroughfare, we'll be there."

There was no reason for them to identify themselves as police, and they did not have to, Escalante said.

"Put yourself in our shoes," he said, adding that he does not believe the New Year's event will be a problem.

Modes, however, takes exception to undercover officers at the group's meetings.

"I think the police have plenty of tools to do their jobs without having to use subterfuge to get information from meetings," he said.

Modes said that a source within the police department confirmed the group's suspicions that undercover officers were at the meetings. He said parade organizers have contacted the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild about possible violations of their constitutional rights to privacy, free speech and assembly.

The ACLU could not be reached to comment Friday.

The parade is billed as an alternative to city- or corporate-sponsored events. According to the group's Web site, it's a "parade of ordinary folks, freaks, clowns, gamelan, politics, fire, samba drums, punks, pirates, art, bikes, hippies, art cars, zombies, marching bands, moms, dads, kids and music."

People will begin gathering at 5 p.m. in the Saturn Cafe parking lot for the parade.


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