BookTalk

  • February 23, 2012
    BookTalk
    Poisoned
    The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat
    By: 
    Jeff Benedict

    By Jeff Benedict, a best-selling author and journalist


    Before I wrote Poisoned, my wife Lydia spent two years trying to convince me to do a book on the food industry. I resisted, saying guys like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser did that. I write nonfiction stories, usually ones built around legal disputes. I couldn’t see how to do a compelling legal story around food. 

    Then something happened. Lydia revolutionized the way our family eats. This did not happen gradually. One week she cleaned out our cupboards and refrigerator, getting rid of everything from brand-name cereal to frozen meat to staple products like butter, flour, and sugar. Even the salt and pepper went. Then she restocked our kitchen with organic foods. We also started growing directly to small local farms to purchase our meat, poultry, and dairy products. 

    We didn’t stop here, though. We converted our 20-acre property into an organic fruit and vegetable farm. For a guy who grew up in a beach community in Connecticut, this was culture shock. But our four children loved it because we added horses, guinea fowl and chickens. We now collect close to twenty farm fresh eggs per day. On top of that we plant, water, weed, harvest and can. Now when we say grace, we mean it. 

    Besides improving the way I look and feel, this lifestyle change dramatically altered the way I look at food. The transformation got me searching earnestly for a food-related book topic.  That’s when I came across Bill Marler, a personal injury lawyer who has emerged as the country’s most influential advocate for food safety. Today, food safety is a serious public-health problem. The CDC estimates that food-borne disease causes about 48 million illnesses per year. Roughly one in six Americans get sick from bad food. Many of these cases are mild gastroenteritis, commonly referred to as the stomach bug. But too many food poisoning cases are more serious, resulting in approximately 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually. The fatalities are often children and the elderly. 

  • February 16, 2012
    BookTalk
    No Undocumented Child Left Behind
    Plyler v. Doe and the Education of Undocumented Schoolchildren
    By: 
    Michael A. Olivas

    By Michael A. Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, and director of the school’s Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance.


    Immigration has always been a complex transaction and dangerous sojourn, and local forces have attempted to control the process, especially as the country was forming and borders were not yet fully established. Throughout United States history, state and local politicians have introduced and enacted thousands of anti-alien bills. Some legislation has even been so mean-spirited as to advocate a repeal of 1982’s  Plyler v. Doe, the watershed Supreme Court decision that required Texas to give undocumented children free access to public schools. In difficult economic times, elected officials find scapegoating aliens is an easy way to reach low-hanging fruit, as if these workers were the source of the sputtering economy. For example, Alabama enacted HB 56 (the “Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act”) in 2011, regarded as the most-draconian anti-immigrant legislation to date. The statute even required schools to conduct a census of undocumented children in schools, until it was enjoined by the trial and Circuit judges.

    Such arguments and legislation, mixed in a cauldron amidst shrill warnings about the rights of “real Americans,” lead inevitably to a sense of divisiveness, racial superiority, and undifferentiated prejudice. Such imprecise, undifferentiated, and broad-brush swipes at “illegals” and “anchor babies” generally tar all the groups. Free-floating racialized animus often leads to a generalized resentment against all people of color, or “others,” especially those constructed as “foreigners.”  If there were a group that holds promise to become productive, undocumented K-12 and college students would surely be that group. With the generally dismal schooling available to these students, that even a small percentage could meet the admission standards of colleges and universities is extraordinary. Given their status and struggle, each successful student represents a story of substantial accomplishment. Most of these students have parents who struggled to bring them to this country and exercised considerable risk to enable their achievements. That they succeed under extraordinary circumstances is remarkable to virtually all who observe them. These students’ success partially explains why so many educators and legislators have accepted Plyler and worked to assist them in navigating the complexities of school and college. Despite the success of anti-immigrant rhetoric in shaping a discourse and of restrictionists in fashioning resentments, reasonable legislators of both parties have attempted to address the issues these students face.

  • February 9, 2012
    BookTalk
    Intersexuality and the Law
    Why Sex Matters
    By: 
    Julie A. Greenberg

    By Julie A. Greenberg, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law


    The term "intersex" evokes diverse images, typically of people who are both male and female or neither male nor female. Neither vision is accurate. The millions of people with an intersex condition, or a DSD (difference of sex development), are men and women whose sex chromosomes, gonads, or sex anatomy do not fit clearly into the male/female binary norm. Until recently, intersex conditions were shrouded in shame and secrecy; many adults were unaware that they had been born with an intersex condition and those who did know were advised to hide the truth. Current medical protocols and societal treatment of people with a DSD are based on false stereotypes about sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, which create unique challenges to framing effective legal claims and building a strong cohesive movement. (For some of my earlier work on this topic, see http://ssrn.com/author=252410.)

    Intersexuality and the Law: Why Sex Matters examines the role that legal institutions can play in protecting the rights of people with a DSD. The first part of the book explains the sex, gender, and disability assumptions underlying the current medical protocol for the treatment of infants born with an intersex condition. Although most intersex conditions are not disabling, pose no physical risk, and require no medical intervention, infants with these conditions often are subjected to invasive cosmetic surgeries to alter their genitalia so that their bodies conform to a binary sex norm. These surgeries provide no medical benefit and have not been proven to enhance the child’s psychological well-being, but they can lead to a number of problems. They can render women incapable of experiencing an orgasm. They may also result in infection, scarring, incontinence, and other severe physical complications and emotional trauma.

    The major goal of the intersex movement is to challenge these medical practices. In addition, the intersex movement is also concerned that people with an intersex condition whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned to them at birth will face the same legal obstacles confronting transgender people. Sometimes, government authorities refuse to recognize their self-identified gender as their legal sex for purposes of marriage, identity documents, and appropriate housing and restroom use.

  • February 2, 2012
    BookTalk
    Richard Thompson Ford
    Rights Gone Wrong
    By: 
    How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality

    By Richard Thompson Ford, George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford University


    Since the 1960s, the ideas developed during the civil rights movement have dominated American thinking about social justice. Courts and governmental agencies enforce legal prohibitions against discrimination; private businesses and universities follow suit, fashioning their own diversity policies. Even private individuals think about race relations in civil-rights terms: we aspire to the ideal of “colorblindness” and condemn the evils “discrimination” and “bias.” American civil rights legislation has been a model for other nations and the American civil rights movement has inspired important struggles against injustice, such as the South African anti-apartheid movement and the international movement for gay rights.

    When it comes to outright discrimination and overt prejudice, civil rights have been an astonishing success. But today’s most serious social injustices aren’t caused by bias and bigotry. For instance, in the context of race, they stem from segregation — a legacy of past racism but not by and large the result of ongoing discrimination — and the many disadvantages that follow from living in isolated, economically depressed and crime-ridden neighborhoods. In my new book, Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality, I show that civil rights litigation and activism have hardly made a dent in these formidable obstacles. In fact, civil rights thinking can distract attention from the real problems, emphasizing dramatic incidents that aren’t good examples of the larger injustices.

    Civil rights haven’t been a panacea for the illness of social prejudice, but like a patient who keeps popping pills because the prescription isn’t working, we’re now at risk of an overdose. Civil rights litigation has exploded since the 1970s, far outpacing the growth in civil litigation generally. In 1991 the federal courts heard about 8,300 employment discrimination cases; in 2000 they heard over 22,000. Civil rights laws, properly framed and limited, serve a vital social purpose, but too many civil rights can be as bad as too few, and an overly aggressive civil rights regime can be as destructive as an ineffectual one.

  • January 26, 2012
    BookTalk
    Corporations Are Not People
    Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It
    By: 
    Jeffrey D. Clements

    By Jeffrey D. Clements, the co-founder and general counsel of Free Speech for People and founder of Clements Law Office, LLC. Clements is author of the new book Corporations Are Not People, which explores the disastrous impact of the Citizens United opinion on democracy and proposes a constitutional amendment to restore government to the people.


    As the nation increasingly embraces the constitutional amendment solution to Citizens United v. FEC, a new proposition regarding so-called “corporate personhood” is emerging. It’s a proposition, which the notorious Citizens United decision actually had nothing to do with.

    Last week, for example, my friend Kent Greenfield cast a skeptical eye, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, on the “anti-corporate activists” who support a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. (My own view competed the next day in a Boston Globe op-edwith Congressman Jim McGovern, the lead sponsor of the People’s Rights Amendment.)

    As an initial matter, no one should assume that the 79 percent of Americans who favor a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United are “anti-corporate,” whatever that means. After all, 1,000 business leaders have called for a constitutional Amendment, as have legal scholars, lawyers, former state attorneys general, serving attorneys generals, dozens of cities and town representative bodies and millions of Americans.

    The argument that corporations in fact are “people” under the Constitution, or at least that we ought to continue the tacit amendment of the Constitution that pretends that they are, at least has the virtue of frankness. Less credible, is the argument that Citizens United and the larger “corporate speech” theory under the First Amendment is not really about corporate rights at all, but merely about protecting associational rights of people.

    Professor Greenfield argues that the Supreme Court in Citizens United got “the result” wrong but at least it asked “the right question.”  No, the Court got the result wrong because the Court asked the wrong question. The actual question before the Court in Citizens United should have been the question posed by a challenge to the corporate regulation component of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) – Can Congress create different election spending rules for human beings than for corporations?