Wednesday, July 21, 2010

[speakeasy] Liz Phair's new album

Following Liz Phair's surprise release of 'Funstyle,' her first album of original material since 2005, I wrote a review of the album for The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, then followed up with a previously unreported story on how she left her record label in the process of making it. Both articles are excerpted below.

Liz Phair, ‘Funstyle’: Rapping and Confessions
by Matt Saldaña
Photo courtesy Liz Phair
July 9, 2010

Liz Phair is expecting that record-company executives will hate her new record, a self-parodying mélange she posted on her Web site this week with little fanfare. Mockingly titled “Funstyle,” the surprise release is a schizophrenic, sample-heavy affair that alternates between crushing self-doubt and music-industry rancor.

[Read the entire review at The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog.]

Liz Phair: Why I Left My Record Company
by Matt Saldaña
July 13, 2010

Following last week’s surprise release of “Funstyle,” an online-only album that vents frustration at the recording industry, rocker Liz Phair has posted an instructive note on her website, titled “How To Like It.” In it, she announces that “Funstyle’s” songs have caused her to “lose” her record deal, management, and “a lot of nights of sleep.” “Love them, or hate them,” she writes of the new tracks, “but don’t mistake them for anything other than an entirely personal, un-tethered-from-the-machine, free for all view of the world, refracted through my own crazy lens.”

On one such un-tethered track, Phair imagines an agent telling her “Funstyle” amounts to “career suicide,” and that “ATO will never put this out.” According to Phair, the latter point at least appears to be true.

In an e-mail to Speakeasy, Phair insisted there are “no hard feelings, only circumstances” that led to her split—“almost a year ago”—with ATO Records. The label, co-founded by Dave Matthews, signed Phair in 2008 and re-released her acclaimed and influential debut album, “Exile in Guyville” later that year. Billboard reported at the time that a new studio album was “penciled in” for the fall of 2008, though “Funstyle” marked Phair’s first album of original material since 2005’s “Somebody’s Miracle,” released on Capitol Records.

[Read the entire article at The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog.]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

[speakeasy] ‘The Orchid Thief’ Author Susan Orlean Becomes a Chicken Person

by Matt Saldaña
Photo Courtesy Museum of Science
March 4, 2010

Author Susan Orlean (“The Orchid Thief”) never fancied herself as a chicken person. But after moving from Manhattan to the Hudson Valley, she found herself craving her own flock, she writes, “with an urgency that exceeded even my mad adolescent desire to have a pony.” Orlean was surprised to find she was not alone; in a recent New Yorker piece, she describes the resurgence of “backyard chickens” in American cities: “Chickens seem to be a perfect convergence of the economic, environmental, gastronomical and emotional matters of the moment,” she writes. For a price roughly equal to a carton of eggs, one can purchase a chick that will lay hundreds of eggs over the course of five or six years—roughly one every 36 hours, and all, one can be sure, cage-free, local and organic.

This week at Boston’s Museum of Science, Orlean delivered her first-ever lecture on backyard chickens, in which she invoked both AMC’s “Mad Men” (“Can you imagine Don Draper with chickens? The whole point of the suburbs, in its darkest conception, was to deny any association with an agrarian past.”) and Martha Stewart (“You might not think of her as someone who wants to rip the veneer off of suburban living” but she “deserves credit” for making chickens glamorous).

Earlier, Speakeasy caught up with Orlean to talk about the sociology of chicken-keeping, her next book project (hint: it’s animal-related), and Meryl Streep’s bid for a third Oscar.

[View the entire article at The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog.]

[indyweek] After "soul-searching," Racial Justice Act passes

by Matt Saldaña
August 12, 2009

After approving versions of roughly three dozen bills, hammering out a state budget and deliberating for more than three hours, the N.C. Senate had one item left on its agenda the night of Aug. 5: the Racial Justice Act. The Senate had passed a version of the landmark bill, which would prevent the execution of defendants on the basis of race. Yet it did so only after tacking on a controversial amendment—introduced by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham)—that would simultaneously ensure the resumption of capital punishment in North Carolina.

When it came time for the Senate to concur with a "clean" House version that purged the controversial clauses, Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham), the bill's sponsor, stood up, pointed his finger to the Senate chamber's door and left in a hurry. Later, the Senate recessed for nearly an hour while the Democrats held a private caucus on the bill.

At roughly 7:45 p.m., the Democrats emerged, and McKissick, who had delayed the vote twice in the past week to garner enough supporters, said, "I would simply ask my colleagues to concur."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Homeland Security institutes new rules for 287(g) program

This article was featured on Bender's Immigration Bulletin.

by Matt Saldaña
July 22, 2009

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is changing its controversial 287(g) program to encourage local law enforcement agencies, including those in Durham and Wake counties, to focus their energies on processing "criminal illegal aliens" for deportation, not those accused of petty crimes. However, the federal directive stops short of guaranteeing such deportations won't happen.

The 287(g) program—and a separate initiative, Secure Communities, which faces similar questions about its transparency and purpose—was the subject of a Spanish-language forum in Durham last week. While Durham Police Chief José Lopez calmed some immigrant advocates' fears about the department's enforcement of 287 (g), Durham Sheriff's Deputy Major Paul Martin could not answer basic questions about his office's involvement in federal programs.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

[indyweek] The high cost of the death penalty

This article was featured on the Death Penalty Information Center Web site.

by Matt Saldaña
Illustration by J.P. Trostle
June 24, 2009

The cheapest part of executing a prisoner is the killing itself.

The state's procedure of lethal injection costs about $500: $168 in medicine and syringes, plus roughly $340 for the doctor, who is present for three to four hours, according to the N.C. Department of Correction. (See details at end of story.)

Yet court fees related to capital trials, those in which prosecutors seek the death penalty for murder, cost North Carolina millions of dollars. The costs are incurred even if the charges are reduced or dismissed. Given the state's budget crisis, which has forced lawmakers to cut funding for education, social services and children's health insurance, money spent on pursuing death penalty cases arguably could be better used. Nationwide, several states, including Colorado and Kansas, are considering abolishing the death penalty to save money.

In North Carolina, Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, recently told the House Ways and Means Committee, "We might want to, at some point, revisit whether the death penalty ought to be imposed, or whether we ought to impose a life sentence without parole, because it's a strong, persuasive and convincing argument when you talk about the astronomical expense of capital cases."

Between 2001 and 2008, N.C. Indigent Defense Services cost the state an additional $36 million when prosecutors sought the death penalty instead of life imprisonment for 733 people, according to the Indy's analysis of a 2008 IDS report. IDS is a publicly funded agency that provides private attorneys for defendants charged with capital crimes, but cannot afford a lawyer.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Saturday, June 27, 2009

[Rockefeller Brothers Fund] Shared Prosperity: The New Voices in Civic Engagement

This article was commissioned for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund's 2008 Annual Review. From the review: "The 2008 Annual Review cover story, 'Democracy in Action, centers on the Fund's Democratic Practice program and examines the issues of elections reform, public financing, and immigration. It includes features by Lauren Foster and Matt Saldaña."

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Jeff Weiner
June 2009

On a cold day in January 2009, with the economy in freefall and the United States at war on two fronts in the Middle East, Barack Hussein Obama, a self-described "son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas," was inaugurated the country's 44th president.

"We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," he said to a crowd of nearly 2 million, huddled together on the National Mall. "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth."

To many, that declaration would have seemed impossible just one year ago. Anti-immigrant rhetoric filled the airwaves for much of 2008 and threatened to upend support for a candidate who had spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. Ultimately, Obama's victory depended not only on the insolvency of such language but also on support by a new class of voters: a coalition of Asian Americans, Latinos, and so-called New Americans born to immigrants in the latter half of the 20th century. According to a study by Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos voted in unprecedented numbers in 2008, favoring Obama by a factor of two to one. Exit polls conducted by CNN show Asian Americans similarly favored Obama and suggest the Latino vote may have handed Obama a victory in several critical swing states, including Indiana and North Carolina.

"We've shown that we have the numbers to really shift the political calculus that goes into election strategy for generations to come. There is no question about the power of the immigrant vote," says Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).

[View the entire article at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Web site.]

Thursday, June 04, 2009

[indyweek] Raleigh's Cuban community: Their stories, their views on Obama's new diplomacy

by Matt Saldaña
June 3, 2009


Over the past 50 years, the Cuban exodus to the U.S has swung elections, inspired academic studies, spurred CIA-led battles and provided both relief and anguish for Fidel Castro and the 10 U.S. presidents whose terms he has outlasted. Now President Barack Obama has begun the diplomatic dance with Cuba (the U.S. and Cuba have no official high-level relations) and rolled back some of George W. Bush's most ineffective stances toward Cuba, primarily related to the migration of Cubans.

More than 5,000 Cuban exiles live in North Carolina, and many of them settled in the Triangle. Alfonso Sama, who's lived in Durham for the past decade, escaped the country on a raft in 1962. Tony Asion was sent here by his parents in the early 1960s, as one of thousands of parentless "Pedro Pan" kids. Beba Rodriguez missed the 1980 Mariel boatlift, arriving in the U.S. two years later by obtaining an exit visa through Panama. Ezequiel Casamayor and Noelmis Sevila, political dissidents, were flown by the U.S. government to Raleigh as refugees in 2008.

They are united by their flight, but are nevertheless a loose confederacy of exiles. While some fled in the weeks after the 1959 Revolution, others stayed and supported Castro's vision, only to sour of it later. Still others were born into communism, and enjoyed the fruits of a Soviet-supported paradise (albeit one with no room for dissent) before succumbing to the poverty that its collapse left behind. The relative few who have earned priority refugee status in recent years tell stories of humiliation, and time spent in jail, for their political activities—some of them encouraged by U.S. efforts like Radio Martí.

"In no singular moment did I decide to leave Cuba," says Ezequiel Casamayor, 65, who arrived in North Carolina last year with his two sons, two granddaughters and daughter-in-law. "I was part of the opposition there, fighting for a change on the island. But every day was harder to survive in Cuba. If you aren't communist, there is no life for you there."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Racial justice victory dimmed by possible resumption of executions

by Matt Saldaña
May 20, 2009

On May 14, during the same week that North Carolina's death penalty cleared a significant legal hurdle, the state Senate passed a landmark bill that seeks to make capital punishment decisions more equitable. The Racial Justice Act, which passed by a 36-10 margin, would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek or impose the death penalty at the time of their trial.

"Let's not be naïve. [Race] has been a factor at times in the past, and we need to recognize that," Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, the bill sponsor, said before the vote. "I'd much rather see a person end up in life in prison, without parole, because it may be fair and appropriate for the offense he committed."

A recent study (PDF) conducted by two UNC-Chapel Hill professors found that defendants in North Carolina are twice as likely to be sentenced to death for capital crimes if they are black; defendants whose victims are white are 3.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than defendants who committed identical crimes against non-white victims, the study found.

The Senate vote is bittersweet for proponents of death-penalty reform, because it includes an amendment (PDF) intended to end the state's de facto moratorium on executions that has been in place for nearly three years. The amendment—introduced by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who voted against the bill—would prevent doctors from being disciplined for participating in executions and would exempt the N.C. Council of State from its role in approving execution protocol. That would resolve two issues hung up in the state's courts until recently that have effectively postponed execution of the state's 163 death-row inmates since August 2006.

"What they're trying to do is make this an execution bill, and this is not that," said Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, a sponsor of the bill on the House side. "This bill is about fairness, and opportunity, for both sides—the prosecutors and also the defendants. It's a fairness bill."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] De facto death penalty moratorium may end

by Matt Saldaña
May 13, 2009

Following a 4-3 decision by the N.C. Supreme Court, North Carolina is one step closer to ending a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, and supporters of capital punishment are clamoring for the proverbial guillotine to drop. But before the state can execute its 163 inmates on death row, it must first confront several legal and legislative challenges to the practice.

House Minority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, announced last week that the "last significant hurdle has now been resolved" to resume executions and urged lawmakers to vote down any further death-penalty reforms.

"We really don't need any further legislative action," he said in an interview. "We've had the death penalty in our laws for the last 30 years, under what the Supreme Court says is constitutional procedures."

Yet activists and lawmakers say the death penalty is deeply flawed, and they support a host of bills that would protect defendants from being sentenced to death on the basis of race or for crimes they committed while suffering from a serious mental disability.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] O.C. waste transfer station site contains wetlands, says new county report

by Matt Saldaña
April 21, 2009

A consultant's report on a proposed Orange County waste transfer station omitted critical information about the presence of wetlands on one of the sites, the Indy has learned.

A recent analysis, commissioned by Orange County, reveals that the proposed, 143-acre site in southwestern Orange County contains multiple streams and wetlands throughout the property. That analysis, conducted by soil and environmental scientist Hal Owen, is at odds with a February 2009 report (PDF, 1.8 MB), by Charlotte-based consultants Olver, Inc., that stated "site development will not result in the impact of wetlands in the vicinity of the project."

In the ongoing, 17-month site selection process devised by Olver, the consultants excluded potential sites that did not contain at least 25 acres "unencumbered" by wetlands and floodplains. However, Owen's report shows that the parcel on N.C. 54 is covered with wetlands and streams. At a Solid Waste Advisory Board meeting earlier this month, Olver announced that it was recommending the purchase of just 25 of the site's 143 acres—yet, according to Owen's report, this area alone contains three separate wetland areas, and two additional streams.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Public input sought on New Hill project

by Matt Saldaña
April 20, 2009

Citizens have less than one week to comment on a draft Environmental Impact Statement on a controversial wastewater treatment plant proposed for New Hill, a primarily African-American community in unincorporated western Wake County.

"Why did they choose this site? When I get up in the morning and I look at myself in the mirror, I know why they chose it," said Louis Powell, an African-American resident of New Hill.

The controversial $327 million project has a long history. The towns of Cary, Apex, Morrisville and Holly Springs, and the Wake County portion of Research Triangle Park, formed an alliance, Western Wake Partners, to determine the best place for a sewage treatment plant. In 2006, they issued an Environmental Impact Statement concluding that the unincorporated town of New Hill was the best place to flush their waste—despite reasonable alternatives in underpopulated areas near the Shearon Harris nuclear plant.

However, that EIS elicited citizen outcry as well as criticism from state regulators. N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials wrote that the report should not be considered an "accurate, complete and adequate document" because it "does not appropriately evaluate the population directly impacted" in New Hill.

In 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took on the report so that it would comply with state and federal environmental laws.

Yet, the Corps' draft EIS, written by consultants hired by Western Wake Partners, has arrived at many of the same conclusions as the Partners' original report. Though it does not explicitly argue for locating the plant at New Hill, the report appears to pave the way for the Partners' intended outcome.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] 'First step to do what's right' for Jordan Lake

by Matt Saldaña
Illustration by V.C. Rogers
April 15, 2009

After months of carefully applied pressure from developers pushing a mega-project near Jordan Lake, the Durham County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday to reject their argument and require public hearings before redrawing the lake's protective boundary.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

[indyweek] Trash Talk: Where should Orange County stick its garbage?

by Matt Saldaña
March 11, 2009

Amber Kirby, who works from home for a database marketing company, lives in the heart of dairy farmland in southwestern Orange County. She and her husband are raising their two children on their homestead, which the Kirby family has owned for generations.

"One of the reasons we wanted to live back here is it's nice and peaceful," she said. "We have herds of deer we've named."

Yet the ancestral land in Bingham Township also has the distinction of being sandwiched between two sites the county is considering for a 250 ton-per-day waste transfer station. Six days a week, roughly 45 dump trucks from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and the University of North Carolina would pass her house on the two-lane N.C. 54 en route to the station. From there, semi-trailer trucks would haul the trash to an undetermined landfill, as the Orange County landfill will be full in 2011. As Kirby put it, her family lives "between a rock and a hard place."

That phrase could also apply to Orange County, which like any government, has to wrestle with the sticky issue of where to put its trash.

Over the past 10 years, the commissioners' failure to solve the waste issue has spawned intense opposition in Orange County: Citizens' groups have formed to fight the landfill and waste transfer station, threatening to file an injunction against the county over the site. The federal government investigated racial discrimination claims over the landfill on Eubanks Road. And other town councils and appointed boards, alienated by the county's actions, or lack of them, are fighting to protect their turf.

As for the recent controversy, 16 months and $254,000 later—the amount the county paid to Charlotte-based consultants, Olver Inc., to search for the best location for the waste transfer station—the final two sites are, at best, imperfect solutions to the uglier problem of a county with nowhere to dump its garbage.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Durham's watershed protection leaks

by Matt Saldaña
February 25, 2009

The City of Durham may soon be on the hook to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to curb pollutants that drain into Jordan Lake, but for now, thanks to a regulatory loophole that surfaced recently, a quarter of the city, including most of downtown, remains outside the protection of any water quality standards.

That means developers in the 25-square-mile no man's land can build without adhering to even the most basic stormwater protection measures, though the Neuse River basin covers the northern half of Durham and Jordan Lake reaches into the city's southwest corner—and both are critical yet heavily polluted water sources.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

[indyweek] Raleigh leaders break long-held boundary on Falls Lake protections

by Matt Saldaña
January 14, 2009

Raleigh's elected officials voted 6-1 earlier this month to allow a charter school to build inside a natural resource buffer designed to protect the water quality of Falls Lake. The decision marks the city's first-ever exemption to protections established in the 1980s to control stormwater flooding and protect the city's drinking source.

"This is not a good precedent," said Councilor Thomas Crowder, the only negative vote.

Natural resource buffers restrict development within 100 feet of dry channels and intermittent streams, which help prevent erosion and naturally filter dirt and pollutants—such as nitrogen—from water that eventually drains into Falls Lake. They provide an additional protection beyond the state's required 50-foot riparian buffers, which surround water sources within protected watershed areas.

Raleigh's city code allows such an exemption in cases where "strict adherence to the provisions of the chapter will result in unnecessary hardship or create practical difficulties." Yet, in more than 20 years, officials have never approved one.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[WUNC] Re-drawing Jordan Lake

Durham and Chatham counties are facing off over a proposed mega-development near Jordan Lake. Chatham County Commissioners are appealing to North Carolina's Division of Water Quality to retain the lake’s current boundaries, but Durham County wants them redrawn. Matt Saldaña, staff writer at the Independent Weekly, joins host Frank Stasio to discuss the latest developments.

[Listen to the "The State of Things" episode on WUNC.]

Saturday, December 06, 2008

[indyweek] Durham fails to hold the line on Jordan Lake

by Matt Saldaña
Illustration by V.C. Rogers
December 3, 2008

Durham businessman Neal Hunter drafted ambitious plans for developing 164 acres in southwestern Durham County into high-density housing and commercial space.

But besides the paperwork and political hurdles that normally accompany a proposal to change the zoning designation on a piece of land, there was one other big obstacle lying in the path of his vision: Jordan Lake, a drinking water reservoir whose shores are protected by stringent environmental regulations enacted and enforced by both the county and the state.

The property sits along N.C. 751 within a mile of the lake's shoreline. That means it falls inside the "critical watershed" where the high-density development proposed by Hunter is prohibited. That is, unless you disagree with where the lake ends.

In 2005, Hunter did just that. He commissioned a private survey that pushed the lake's 1-mile radius boundary westward by more than 100 acres. The new line conveniently excluded Hunter's property, clearing the way for the "751 Assemblage" project, which calls for 1,300 dwellings and 600,000 square feet of combined office and retail space.

Hunter submitted the new survey to Durham planning officials, along with a request to relocate the official boundary. In January 2006, they obliged him.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Hugh Webster's long-shot bid for Congress hinges on immigration

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by D.L. Anderson
October 1, 2007

After finishing a plate of hot dogs and brownies, Hugh Webster addressed a small gathering of 30 supporters at a campaign fundraiser in East Raleigh. Wearing an olive-green safari shirt, khaki shorts and a bolo tie engraved with a buffalo, the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress walked to the center of the room.

In a brief speech, he rallied the crowd around one of the central tenets of his campaign.

"After my election, I will represent everybody," he said, pausing for dramatic effect. "Every citizen, every legal resident."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] For its second album, Annuals found coming home best

by Matt Saldaña
October 1, 2008

Holed up in their unfinished practice space beside a metal machine shop on Raleigh's Capital Boulevard, the six members of the band Annuals are deciding which songs to cram into a 30-minute set. In two days, they'll drive six hours north to Baltimore to play a showcase for industry executives, and they need to turn heads.

Kenny Florence, Annuals' lead guitarist, leans against his amplifier and pulls a notebook from his pocket, fielding setlist suggestions from the rest of his bandmates, huddled alternately behind a keyboard and a slide-guitar stand, two drum sets, a maze of quarter-inch cables and interlocked microphones. Adam Baker, Annuals' lead singer and songwriter, helps Anna Spence lift her keyboard stand, while Nick Radford and Zack Oden trade drum fills.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Ronnie Sturdivant's legacy of unrealized dreams

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
September 10, 2008

Ronnie Sturdivant, who on Aug. 30 was found shot to death in one of the two landmark buildings he owned in downtown Durham, never quite fit within the inner sanctum of Bull City businessmen. It was appropriate, then, that his funeral was held at the edge of the city, past a country club on Cole Mill Road, not as a final rebuke to the councilmen, real-estate leaders and tenants with whom he publicly clashed, but to accommodate a standing-room-only crowd. More than 1,000 mourners paid tribute Saturday to the former life-insurance salesman and would-be real-estate maven's "dreams unmatched."

"Ronnie would look at a house and think about how marvelous it would become," the Rev. William A. Stephens, his minister at Southside Church of Christ, told an exuberant crowd at the Cole Mill Road Church of Christ. "And I would look at it and think how raggedy that house is."

Sturdivant's lackluster upkeep of roughly 30 rental properties and his stern measures with tenants—including a nasty habit of executing "self-help" evictions—earned him notoriety with city officials, who, in 1993, sought to prevent him from purchasing the Chapel Hill Street motel where he was found murdered. Police have charged one of his commercial tenants in connection with the crime.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Sunday, September 07, 2008

[indyweek] Fall from grace: The two faces of Bo Lozoff

by Matt Saldaña
August 27, 2008

For at least a decade, hundreds of people seeking spiritual guidance passed through Kindness House, headquarters of an interfaith prison ministry and an intentional community led by widely revered spiritual leader Bo Lozoff. Located on 69 acres off a country road 15 miles from Chapel Hill, the site of the former commune contains a pond, garden, outdoor pavilion, wood-paneled cabins, barn and chicken coop, hermitage, meditation hall and a ranch-style house, an ideal setting for spiritual reflection and simple living.

At the head of a dinner table stretching the length of five upright pianos, Lozoff, founder and former director of the Human Kindness Foundation, which operated Kindness House, regularly sat at group meals with volunteers wishing to live in a sacred, communal environment, and with ex-offenders fulfilling the commitments of their parole by working and living there.

In his 2000 book, It's a Meaningful Life: It Just Takes Practice, Lozoff describes "an almost ecstatic sense of gratitude" when he saw visitors at the table "holding the tattooed hand of a reformed murderer who spent many years in brutal prisons." He adds: "Gazing around at such a bizarre mix of human beings, I can almost hear Jesus cheering at the top of his lungs, 'Now this is what I had in mind!'"

But it was on these grounds that Lozoff, who, since 1973, has inspired thousands of prisoners through plainspoken correspondence and spiritual advice, allegedly bullied and intimidated ex-offenders paroled at Kindness House. He berated them for their personal failings and threatened to send them back to prison—which, unknown to the parolees, he could not do—if they violated a strict set of lifestyle agreements, many of which Lozoff himself did not follow.

Despite his teachings against harmful sexual behavior, several female volunteers and one female parolee also allege that Lozoff, who claimed to be celibate, had sexual encounters with them during one-on-one counseling sessions, in which he initiated kissing, touching, and oral and manual sex as a method of spiritual healing. While some of the sexual encounters were initially consensual, the women volunteers say others were not, and that his power over them and the Kindness House community prevented them from speaking out or rebuffing his advances.

These allegations, many of which Lozoff does not deny, prompted the self-styled mystic to close Kindness House, although he did not disclose to his supporters or donors—including an investor currently on trial in South Carolina for fraud—the reason.

Lozoff told the Indy that ultimately, his "unconventional" sexual behavior led to the Human Kindness Foundation's decision to sell the land and close the parole program.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Saturday, September 06, 2008

[indyweek] Suspects get pass; victims to be deported

by Matt Saldaña
September 3, 2008

Orange County prosecutors have dropped misdemeanor charges against two suspects who allegedly attacked two men—because many of the witnesses and victims are awaiting deportation and can't be found to help build the case.

In June, Yuliant Fernandez and Amilcar Tamayo, drivers for Transportes Tania, a Houston-based transportation company, were arrested in Hillsborough for allegedly assaulting two men who refused to pay an extra $500 in exchange for the release of a passenger. (See "Human smuggling in Orange County," July 16, 2008.)

According to Hillsborough Police Lt. Davis Trimmer, the two men who had arrived to pick up the passenger called police saying they allegedly had been assaulted. Police records show that Fernandez allegedly held a knife to the neck of one of the two men, and slashed his van's tires, while Tamayo and Fernandez pelted the van with rocks.

After reporting the incident to police, the victims later fled the scene. The passenger escaped from Tamayo and Fernandez by leaping out of the Transportes Tania van, according to police reports.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said the assault victims—whose home addresses in Clinton are listed in the police report—have been processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

[indyweek] The 'straight-up extortion' express: Human smuggling in Orange County

by Matt Saldaña
July 16, 2008

When Hillsborough police officers responded to a knife fight in a McDonald's parking lot last month, they uncovered a network of van drivers delivering illegal immigrants to the East Coast—and allegedly extorting their passengers.

On two separate occasions in the past month, officers in Hillsborough and Camden, S.C., have arrested drivers working for Transportes Tania, a Houston-based company, for allegedly forcing passengers to pay higher prices than originally agreed. In both cases, according to police reports, the drivers were transporting more than a dozen clients—all illegal immigrants—to destinations throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, with planned stops in North Carolina.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] Michael O'Connell's Mountain Top Removal raised awareness of coal mining practices

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
July 16, 2008

When Al Gore presented Pittsboro, N.C., filmmaker Michael O'Connell with the award for best documentary at this year's Nashville Film Festival, he didn't just rattle off a prepared speech and smile for the photo-op. The former vice president, once berated for his lack of visible emotion, nearly choked up onstage as he recalled the plight of Ed Wiley, the protagonist in Mountain Top Removal, O'Connell's film about a devastating method of coal mining in Southern Appalachia.

I was telling Ed that his campaign to get a new school, because of the terrible impact of mountaintop removal, is really part and parcel of the same kind of struggle that I and others have been involved in, to try to get a solution to the global climate crisis," Gore said, before inviting Wiley onstage. "It's the same fight, really."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] N.C. Governor's School under pressure from anti-gay group

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by D.L. Anderson
July 2, 2008

Each summer, 800 of North Carolina's most talented high school seniors attend the country's oldest Governor's School, a prestigious six-week residential program with campuses in Winston-Salem and Raleigh. The 45-year-old program, which receives about $1.3 million from the General Assembly, eschews traditional teaching methods—including grades—in favor of exploring "the most recent ideas and concepts in each discipline." It asks students to adopt the motto "Accept nothing. Question everything."

This summer, one former Governor's School instructor is questioning the influence that a powerful "family values" group, based in Arizona, has had on a North Carolina institution that has fiercely guarded its academic independence.

Tanya Olson, a community college English professor who led the Human Sexuality Film Series at the Governor's School East Campus in Raleigh for four years, was not offered her position back for this year's session, which is now under way. She calls the loss of her job retribution for her criticism of school administrators and state officials after they suspended the film series and censored her course material—apparently in response to the threat of a lawsuit from the Alliance Defense Fund.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

[indyweek] Choir Practice: Anti-immigration activists rally, preaching mostly to themselves

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Matt Saldaña
June 25, 2008

On the Bicentennial Mall outside the legislative building last week, a dozen immigration activists and conservative lawmakers delivered a series of red-meat tirades against undocumented immigrants, blaming them for drunken driving, gang warfare, crowded emergency rooms—and even, some insinuated, the fall of civilization.

Their rhetoric was designed not only to inflame, but also served as code: In trumping up the social and economic threats allegedly posed by undocumented immigrants, groups such as the Minutemen and Americans for Legal Immigration are tacitly justifying violence among activists—should it erupt—as the cost of defending America.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

[indyweek] Q&A: Author Julia Alvarez on Censorship

by Matt Saldaña
Photo courtesy Julia Alvarez
February 6, 2008

In December, the Johnston County School Board voted to ban How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, an account of sisters who immigrate to America from the Dominican Republic, from school libraries and classrooms, citing several scenes that acknowledged the imperfect, and sometimes explicit, existence of sex. According to The News & Observer, school administrators are "scouring library shelves for other potentially offensive books to remove." In a column, the newspaper later described book banning as a "touchy subject" with "strong feelings on both sides." Recently, the Indy interviewed Julia Alvarez about her critically acclaimed book and the touchy subjects of civil liberties, censorship and immigration. [cont...]

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

[indyweek] N.H. Primary: A Firecracker in Manchester

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Matt Saldaña
January 9, 2007

As Elizabeth Edwards took the stage in a converted mill in Manchester, the unlikely campaign song of "Firecracker," by Ryan Adams, blared through speakers, across a stretch of flag-waving supporters, and into Wolf Blitzer's CNN Situation Room.

"Well, everybody wants to go on forever. But I just want to burn up hard and bright," the North Carolina native sang.

It wasn't the message Edwards wanted to convey—that he's in this for the long haul, from his days as a mill worker in Robbins, N.C., to the day he takes office in the White House. In his concession speech on Tuesday, he told supporters and television viewers that he was "in this race through the convention, and I intend to be the presidential nominee of my party."

But a song about going down in flames of glory might describe Edwards' shift of momentum from squeaking by Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus to landing at the bottom (of the top) of the Democratic heap in New Hampshire.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] The Final Hours in New Hampshire

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Matt Saldaña
January 9, 2007

Twenty-eight hours into a blistering, 36-hour campaign tour of New Hampshire, John Edwards told a group of several hundred onlookers packed into a high school lobby in the southern coastal town of Hampton, that "we're going to surprise people tomorrow."

By the time you read this, tomorrow will have arrived, and the New Hampshire primaries will be over. Polls show Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with sizeable leads over Edwards in the Democratic field. But pollsters have a tricky time predicting behavior in New Hampshire, where more than 40 percent of the population is unaffiliated with a party, and many consider candidates until the final hour.

A CNN/WMUR poll released late Sunday, for example, placed Edwards at 16 percent—far behind Obama and Clinton—but it tallied a mere 6 percent of likely Democratic primary voters who were still undecided. According to many in New Hampshire, that number may be misleading.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]

[indyweek] N.H. Day 3: The Undecided

by Matt Saldaña
Photo by Matt Saldaña
January 7, 2007

Nearly every candidate here has used the term “famously independent” to describe New Hampshire’s voters. Indeed, a majority of the state’s voters are unaffiliated and can cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary. For the “undecided”—and there are still many in New Hampshire—these last few days of campaigning provide a final opportunity to make up their minds. Many will wait until Primary Day to do so, and the results may not reflect national trends or polls. In 2000, for example, John McCain—supported by 62 percent of the independent vote—defeated George W. Bush handily in New Hampshire.

At a town-hall speech in Portsmouth last Friday, John Edwards—trailing Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in national and local polls—appealed to the state’s culture of autonomy:

“We’re going to continue to be outspent. They’re going to spend all the money in the world in New Hampshire,” he said, referring to Obama and Clinton. “But what’s going to happen on Tuesday is you’re going to rise up and say, ‘We don’t want to be told what to do.’”

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]