En route to better days
Fear is a powerful motivator, and as such the government sometimes responds poorly to the irrational fear of its citizens. In 1942, due to a fear of all things Japanese during WWII, the federal government rounded up all the Japanese people they could, including native-born citizens, and placed them in destitute internment camps. Before rounding up Jews and other minorities in concentration camps, the Nazis forced them to identify with yellow badges in the shape of a star, claiming that they were responsible for their country’s problems. Through these events, we learned the hard way that fear and blame, however unfounded, can lead to atrocity.
Comparisons to such human rights abuses are a stretch in today’s case, of course, and perhaps somewhat unfair, and yet the parallels are striking. After 9/11, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City started enforcing a rule known as “brand or segregate”, in which Sikh and Muslim workers were forced to either mark their turbans with an MTA logo or work out of the sight of the general public. See the similarities? Fueled by xenophobic sentiment after the 9/11 tragedy, the MTA responded to American fear by taking steps to appease it: hide all the scary foreigners, or at least mark them so the good red-blooded Americans know to stay away.
Remember the landmark $25 billion federal foreclosure settlement from February? The one which has provisions to help prevent foreclosure on homeowners, provisions most states are ignoring? Which doesn’t yet seem to be doing much for foreclosure victims at all? Well, at least one person has benefited from the settlement: the whistleblower who drew the curtains back on the wizards at Countrywide Financial to kick off the case in the first place. Kyle Lagow, who was fired for pointing out illegalities in Countrywide’s foreclosure appraisal business, first brought the situation to the government’s attention with a lawsuit in 2008. That particular lawsuit, which rolled into one huge suit with a bunch of similar ones, was eventually settled for $1 billion. Whistleblower laws entitle a citizen who first brings up a case and turns over evidence to a certain percentage of the money eventually won in that case. In Lagow’s case, that amount is $14.5 million. Not bad for a lowly house appraiser.
The right to remain silent
One day in fourth grade, a kid in my class was misbehaving so atrociously that the teacher, in an act of desperation, enclosed him in a cardboard box on the ground for the rest of the afternoon. At the time, it was hilarious, and it became a sort of mythical story that he and everyone else would tell well into high school and beyond. You know, one of those jokes or memories that come up at a reunion. Thinking about it, it was probably not the best way to treat a child, but he was being downright unruly. I can understand that sometimes teachers just become so exasperated that they decide to break rules/morality to restore some order. Not so in Mississippi, where, in a certain school district, it was all but encouraged to simply incapacitate out-of-line students as a first resort.
A young aspiring actress who was disabled permanently in an on-set accident for the movie “Transformers 3” has been awarded $18.5 million in tort. In 2010, Gabriela Cedillo was acting as an extra in the movie and her particular part was during a stunt scene set on a freeway. The producers had about 80 extras driving cars (their own cars, actually), with the main filmed action being an elaborate explosion and flinging of props/characters in whatever happens at that moment in the movie. If you’ve never seen any of the Transformers series, know that explosions and stunts and general shock-and-awe forms the bulk of the plot. The day before the accident, the filmmakers had tried and failed at the same stunt. Cedillo’s lawsuit claimed that the day of, shoddy welding had caused a bracket to snap and an extremely taut cable to whip Cedillo’s blue Toyota Scion, pierce right through the frame, and strike Cedillo’s skull. The accident caused Cedillo to lose a third of her skull and part of the right side of her brain. She has limited cognitive ability and has lost all movement on the left side of her body.
That title is not a metaphor for anything. Despite regulations requiring prison guards to undo any restraints on pregnant prison inmates during labor, many women were shackled and strapped down up to and, sometimes, during the delivery of a baby. Guards apparently ignored not only the law, but also medical personnel pleading for them to unlock the handcuffs to prevent pain, discomfort, or other complications. The law banning such restraint has been in the books since 1999, but apparently has not been followed by the employees of Cook County Jail. Some 80 women stepped forward in this class action lawsuit, all to make claims of poor treatment during labor.