TIME justice

Conservative, Liberal Groups Try—and Fail—to Make Peace on Voting Laws

“I’m still waiting for the focus on how we get people to vote," said Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

What would it take to find common ground between the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is fighting restrictive voting laws in many states, and the Heritage Foundation, which supports the same laws?

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, representatives of the two groups discussed the battles over voting rights that they and others are fighting in courts and legislatures nationwide ahead of this fall’s midterm elections. But any hope of agreement on the issue faded quickly.

“I would be willing to partner if there were some ideas about how we open up the process, not how we restrict the process,” said LDF head, Sherrilyn Ifill, “I’m still waiting for the focus on how we get people to vote.”

Hans von Spakovsky, who heads the election law reform initiative at Heritage, said he is very concerned about what keeps people away from the polls, but argues they stay away for different reasons than voting rights advocates would have people believe. “What keeps people away is not procedural issues,” Spakovsky said. “If we want to increase turnout that is a cultural issue.”

The debate so far has produced mixed results. In North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas courts have both upheld and blocked voting laws ahead of the midterm election.

 

 

TIME White House

White House Wants Poor Parents to Speak More to Kids

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Randy Falco, Barbara Bermudo
Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, alongside Randy Falco, president and CEO of Univision Communications Inc, left, and Barbara Bermudo, host of Univision's news magazine program "Primer Impacto", right, read to children at the launch of "Pequeños y Valiosos" (Young and Valuable), a parent-focused effort on early childhood development, at the East Harlem Council for Human Services Bilingual Headstart Program, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in New York. John Minchillo—AP Images for Univision

By reading and talking to babies from birth, research has shown kids can enter school better prepared for success

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, a new program is about to get underway that serves a purpose near to both the Obama White House and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton care a great deal about.

Benioff is one of two locations where Too Small to Fail, a joint venture between the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, is launching a pilot program that will expand their efforts to close the so-called word gap. A little over a year ago, Too Small to Fail was started with the goal of getting more parents talking, singing, and reading to their kids starting from birth. Studies have shown children born to higher-income families are exposed to some 30 million more words than their counterparts on welfare before the reach kindergarten.

About 73% of the families served by Benioff Children’s Hospital utilize Medicaid, says the hospital’s President and CEO Dr. Bert Lubin, making it the ideal setting to test the benefits of providing tools and support to families and communities that encourage them to interact with their babies. “It’s such a simple thing,” Lubin says . “The parents who are not talking, singing and reading. They love their children, but they don’t know that not doing it is something that really permanently effects the child.”

On Thursday, representatives from the Oakland program will be at the White House sharing their stories with other community leaders, including the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island where a Bloomberg Philanthropies funded program that records and tracks the words spoken to babies has been underway for a little over a year. Too Small is joining with the White House to use the nation’s most powerful bully pulpit to spread the message that learning is important and support local communities working to get their children and babies best prepared for school.

The White House will announce an investment to fund a research coalition to build more research around the word gap. The federal government will also be working with the tech community to get their input in the effort to close the word gap. Some apps, like the Text4Baby mobile application, are already in use, helping provide mothers with information on the development of their child throughout pregnancy and infancy.

Over the next year at Benioff and around Oakland, parents will receive books, clothing and reading materials from birth to remind them to get chatty with their bundles of joy. They’ll be reminded of the benefits of speaking to their kids on billboards and in advertisements, at community-based programs and in churches. The hospital also plans to track and record the development of babies who are being interacted with regularly to gauge the benefits and encourage other cities to do the same. “The reality is if we address this word gap, everyone is more likely to stay in school, get a job afterwards and contribute to society,” Lubin says. “The investment is small in terms of the impact it will have on our society.”

Almost half of infants and toddlers come from low-income families and about 25% live in poverty, according to the National Center for Infants and Toddlers. Though having enough food and shelter is extremely important to a child’s health, cognitive development is equally important. Families play a pivotal role in children’s early development, but only about 48% of parents read to their kids every day. That lack of interaction is detrimental to children who’s way out of poverty is through school. According to research from Rice University, children from low income families heard about 30 million fewer words by age 4 than their high income peers. Kids from working class families heard about 15 million fewer.

“This word gap turns into an achievement gap once children reach school,” says Ann O’Leary, the director of the children and families program at Next Generation.

Too Small to Fail’s first year was spent increasing public awareness on the importance of closing the word gap. A partnership with Univision ensured ads appeared in Spanish and English. The topic came up on television shows including The Fosters and Orange is the New Black—this year, the issue is expected to come up on more shows including Modern Family and Criminal Minds. The American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a policy message that speaks to the importance of early literacy. And last March, Tulsa became the first city to launch a partnership with Too Small to Fail, similar to what’s happening in Oakland.

O’Leary says reading and speaking to children should be as important as brushing their teeth.“When you imagine that this is not an optional activity, but that this is a must-do activity it becomes kind of shocking that only half of families are doing this,” O’Leary says. “What if half were only brushing their teeth? We think it’s just as urgent to get this information out. These are not optional activities.”

 

 

TIME justice

Obama Nominates Vanita Gupta to Be Civil Rights Chief

Vanita Gupta.
Vanita Gupta. AP

Gupta has been praised for her ability to bring opposing parties together in matters of criminal justice and civil rights.

President Obama has tapped the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday. In a statement, Holder praised Gupta’s “trailblazing work” as a civil rights lawyer, and said she “has spent her entire career working to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equal justice for all.”

Strongly supported by the left, Gupta has also won unexpected praise from conservatives normally critical of the Obama administration and Holder’s leadership of the Justice Department. Conservatives including Grover Norquist and former president of the National Rifle Association David Keene are among her supporters.

“We come from a different side of spectrum than ACLU,” says Marc Levin, policy director for the conservative criminal justice reform organization Right on Crime which has an informal relationship with the ACLU. “But, I’ve found her interested in identifying areas where we can work together.”

Gupta started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), where she won a challenge to reverse the convictions of a group of black men who were wrongfully convicted of selling drugs in Texas. In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned the defendants. At the ACLU she led a lawsuit against a Texas immigration detention facility that led to widespread detention policy reform.

As outrage has erupted in Ferguson, Mo. over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, Gupta and the ACLU have been among the loudest voices calling for accountability and transparency from the police department. Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF, said Wednesday that Gupta has “expertise in bringing law enforcement and communities of color to the same table, in pursuit of common goals of fairness and accountability.

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Love says Gupta’s appointment is a “happy confirmation of the Obama Administration’s appreciation of the relationship between civil rights and the criminal justice system.”

Gupta may prove a less divisive choice than Obama’s prior nominee for the civil rights post, Debo Adegbile. His nomination was blocked in Congress because he once represented death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. The Obama administration stood by their nomination of Adegbile, but he later withdrew and returned to private practice.

Gupta has her own legal history, however. She made her name in part by fighting to reform the nation’s drug laws, including embracing broad decriminalization of some drugs. In an opinion piece for the New York Times last September, she called for the elimination of the mandatory minimum sentences that have left many first-time offenders locked up for life. She supports of decriminalizing marijuana, the criminalization of which she has said has contributed to our nation’s overcrowded prison system.

“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend ‘truth in sentencing’ statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment,” Gupta wrote in the New York Times.

TIME celebrities

New York Fan Wants J.Lo Street in the Bronx

Jennifer Lopez Visits Extra
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 03: Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez arrives to a taping of "Extra" at The Grove on March 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Extra) Alberto E. Rodriguez—2011 Getty Images

A New York fan is calling on "every J.Lover in the world" to support his effort

Just over 1,300 people agree that singer, dancer and actress Jennifer Lopez should have a street named after her–where else but the Bronx.

Bronx resident Edgardo Luis Rivera launched a Change.org petition calling for one of the blocks in Jenny-From-the-Block’s old borough to be named in her honor.

Rivera has called on “every J.Lover and fan in the world” to get the district and city councils to consider naming a street after the “Luh You Papi” singer. The New York Daily News reports that Rivera wants part of Blackrock Ave., close to J.Lo’s home growing up, to adopt Lopez’s name.

Rivera announced recently that actress Kristin Chenoweth is among the 1,300 “Jennifer Lopez Way” supporters, but no word yet from the city. According to the Daily News, the city council has been reluctant to name streets after still-living people, though exceptions have been made in the past.

TIME 2014 Election

Florida Governor Holds Up Debate Over Challenger’s Fan

Former Florida Governor and Democratic candidate for Governor Charlie Crist waits next to an empty podium for Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott who delayed his entry onto the stage due to an electric fan that Crist had at his podium at a televised debate at Broward College on Oct. 15, 2014 in Davie, Florida.
Former Florida Governor and Democratic candidate for Governor Charlie Crist waits next to an empty podium for Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott who delayed his entry onto the stage due to an electric fan that Crist had at his podium at a televised debate at Broward College on Oct. 15, 2014 in Davie, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

#Fangate

Florida Gov. Rick Scott refused to take the stage at Wednesday night’s gubernatorial debate after his Democratic challenger Charlie Crist was allowed to have a small fan under his podium, in an odd election moment that has already been dubbed “fangate” across the Internet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have an extremely peculiar situation right now,” moderator Eliott Rodriguez said before Crist took the stage. “We have been told that Gov. Scott will not be participating in the debate.”

The Scott campaign had requested there be no fan on stage during the debate, but because former Gov. Crist was allowed to have one, Scott refused to join him on the stage.

The governor eventually relented, but not before Twitter erupted with snarky commentary. The Democratic Governor’s Association derided the incident as the “political equivalent of pleading the Fifth Amendment.”

Here are some #fangate highlights.

TIME justice

John Grisham Says Sentences Often Too Harsh for Child-Porn Watchers

John Grisham speaks during a television interview in New York in 2012.
John Grisham speaks during a television interview in New York in 2012. Scott Eells—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“These are people who haven’t hurt anybody. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but 10 years in prison?”

Best-selling author John Grisham blasted the harsh punishment that people who watch child pornography face upon conviction, saying the prison system has “gone nuts.”

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age — 60-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” Grisham said in a recent interview. Grisham said there are men in prison who “got online one night” who “probably had too much to drink” and ended up on child-pornography websites, a crime he said a friend had committed.

The writer of legal thrillers The Pelican Brief, The Firm and A Time to Kill took the controversial stance in a recent interview with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, in which he spoke at length about issues he believes face the American criminal-justice system today. During the interview, Grisham shared the story of a friend from law school who served time in prison for downloading child pornography.

“These are people who haven’t hurt anybody. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but 10 years in prison?” Grisham queried.

There is wide consensus in the U.S. that the distribution and possession of child pornography is a federal offense that should be punished, but there is controversy surrounding the one-size-fits-all approach to punishment, particularly at a time when sexting and online porn are so prevalent. Over the past 15 years, according to the advocacy organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the length of federal sentences for child pornography have increased 500%.

In 2013, the U.S. Sentencing Commission began reviewing the sentencing policy surrounding child pornography, given the complexity of the issue in the Internet age. “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child-pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines,” the commission’s chair Judge Patti Saris said in 2013.

Grisham stopped short of defending all convicted sex offenders, adding that he has “no sympathy” for pedophiles. “God, please lock those people up,” he said. “But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, but that’s what they get.”

[Telegraph]

Read next: John Grisham Apologizes for Child Porn Remarks

TIME celebrities

Erykah Badu Makes $3.60 Singing in Times Square

Just enough for a hot dog!

It has been a while since Erykah Badu released a new album, so in an effort to make a couple of dollars the R&B singer hit the streets of New York to… panhandle.

In a iPhone video released Wednesday by Badu, who has become a bit of a social media maven with her quirky vines and tweets, the soulful artist stands in the middle of Time Square, holding out a hat and singing to passersby. Throughout the video, Badu goes largely unnoticed, though she’s able to collect a couple of dollars ($3.60 to be exact) as a result of her efforts.

Badu even quips that with “some initiative, you can make money.” To finish things off, the ever-political songstress reminds viewers that, “in reality, life is a lot harder than this.”

TIME Military

U.S. Military Action Against ISIS Deemed ‘Operation Inherent Resolve’

US Department of Defense (DOD) shows an aircraft launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf on Oct. 13, 2014.
US Department of Defense (DOD) shows an aircraft launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf on Oct. 13, 2014. Joshua Card—EPA

Pentagon chose the name to "reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S."

The operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria was finally given a name on Wednesday. U.S. Central Command has deemed the U.S. military actions against Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria “Operation Inherent Resolve.

According to the Department of Defense, the name is “intended to reflect the unwavering resolve and deep commitment of the U.S. and partner nations in the region and around the globe to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq, the region and the wider international community.”

Since strikes began on Aug. 8, the operation has gone without a name, but the Pentagon announced Wednesday all actions against ISIS since that time will be considered a part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

And yet, military officials seemingly weren’t always in favor of the operation’s new moniker. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in October that the name had been rejected by military officials, who said the name wasn’t the right fit for the effort. One unnamed officer was quoted as saying, “It is just kind of bleh.”

TIME Television

Another Star of The Good Wife to Exit Show

Archie Panjabi on the 'Good Wife' on Feb. 27, 2014.
Archie Panjabi on the 'Good Wife' on Feb. 27, 2014. Jeff Neira—CBS/Getty Images

Archie Panjabi, the actress who plays investigator Kalinda Sharma, will leave the show after Season 6

Bad news for fans of Kalinda Sharma, the tough investigator on The Good Wife — actress Archie Panjabi will be leaving CBS’s hit drama at the end of the current season.

Entertainment Weekly says the Emmy winner will be leaving the show when her contract is up at the end of Season 6 to star in a pilot for a 20th Century Fox Television drama.

“Archie is an Emmy Award-winning dramatic actress, and rightly so. Her work on The Good Wife has been extraordinary, and the time has come for her to star in a project of her own,” 20th Executive Vice President of casting Sharon Klein said. “We couldn’t be happier that it will be with us.”

Panjabi’s exit comes just one season after actor Josh Charles, who played lawyer Will Gardner, left abruptly.

Read more at Entertainment Weekly.

TIME Austria

No One Wants to Rent Hitler’s Birthplace in Austria

The Interior Ministry has been seeking a renter for the fascist dictator's home in Braunau for three years

The Interior Ministry of Austria is having a hard time finding a renter for Adolf Hitler’s birthplace in Braunau.

The rent for the 8,600-square-foot home where one of history’s worst villains was birthed in 1889 has become hard to keep up–at 4,600 Euros-per-month–since the building’s last tenant left in 2011, Agence France-Presse reports.

The Austrian government has been renting the building since 1972, but hopes to have a new occupant by 2015. There are stipulations for occupying the building, however—the rental contract says the house cannot be used as a museum, in an effort to prevent neo-Nazis from occupying the space. According to AFP, the space must be used for “social or educational purpose.”

[AFP]

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