In season two of "Well Read," host and journalist Justin Chapman provides analysis on news, politics, arts, and culture and interviews special guests. Featuring segments by Senior Influencer Correspondent, @BradtheInfluencer, and Senior Toddler Correspondent, Sienna. Justin also provides recommendations for good reads in each episode.

In Episode Sixteen, Justin interviews Anne Sebba, author of Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy. You can find the book at vromansbookstore.com and bookshop.org. Learn more about Sebba's work at annesebba.com.

You can watch "Well Read" on YouTube or on PasadenaMedia.org's TV channels (32 on Charter Spectrum and 99 on AT&T U-verse in LA County) or streaming apps (FireStick, Apple TV, Roku, etc.).

Learn more at justindouglaschapman.com and sign up for my email newsletter at justinchapman.substack.com/subscribe.




Justin Chapman was the guest on the latest episode of "The Crown City Podcast." Host James De Pietro and Justin talked about Justin's background and influences, his time as an elected official on the Altadena Town Council, his journalism, his two TV news talk shows "Well Read" and "NewsRap Local," and the dire situation of local news. Give it a listen here.




If Released from Prison, Bobby Kennedy Assassin Sirhan Sirhan Plans to Live in Pasadena

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the Pasadena resident convicted of assassinating U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) in 1968, plans to move back to his family’s Pasadena home if he is released from prison, his attorney told Pasadena Now


By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 8/28/21


Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the Pasadena resident convicted of assassinating U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) in 1968, plans to move back to his family’s Pasadena home if he is released from prison, his attorney told Pasadena Now.

A parole board in California voted on Friday to recommend suitability for parole for Sirhan. The decision at his 16th parole hearing came after LA County District Attorney George Gascón’s office decided to remain neutral, 52 years after Sirhan admitted to and was convicted of the killing.

However, the decision must still be reviewed by the full parole board for 90 days and then the governor of California will have 30 days to uphold, reverse or send the decision back to the board. Current California Governor Gavin Newsom is facing a recall election on Sept. 14, making it uncertain whether he will be the one to make that decision.

“The parole board today made a very reasoned and specific record of the reasons for making their findings,” Sirhan’s attorney Angela Berry of Encino told Pasadena Now. As to whether the decision stands, she said “it’s going to be pretty tight, but that remains to be seen.”

Berry said that if the governor rejects his parole, they will file a writ of habeas corpus at the trial court level. Berry, who has been representing Sirhan pro bono since summer 2020, has committed to continue representing him through to the conclusion of his case, with the anticipation that at the trial level she can be appointed by the court to receive some form of payment.

‘Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world’

“Over half a century has passed, and that young impulsive kid I was does not exist anymore,” Sirhan told the two commissioners on the parole board, according to the Washington Post. “Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed.”

Sirhan’s death sentence was reduced to life in prison after California abolished capital punishment in 1972. He has been eligible for release since 1975. Kennedy’s son Douglas Kennedy appeared at the hearing, telling the board, “I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” according to Associated Press reporter Julie Watson, the only journalist allowed to attend the hearing. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan. I was very deeply moved by Mr. Sirhan’s expression of remorse and at times it brought tears to my eyes and affected me very deeply.”

During his 1969 trial, Sirhan, a Palestinian, admitted that he shot and killed Kennedy with a .22-caliber pistol on June 5, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles due to Kennedy’s support for Israel. Sirhan was 24 and a Pasadena City College student at the time. Kennedy was the Democratic front runner for president and had just come off stage at the Ambassador after delivering a victory speech for winning the state of California in the Democratic primary. Had he lived, he would likely have been the Democratic nominee for president and American history very well could have played out much differently.

Kennedy had previously served as attorney general under his brother President John F. Kennedy’s administration and was a champion of the Civil Rights Movement. He is survived by his wife, Ethel, now 93, and their nine children.

“What I think is quite clear is that… what has been going on in the United States over the period of the last three years, the division, the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the division whether it’s between black and white, between the poor and the more affluent or between age groups or over the war in Vietnam, that we can start to work together,” Kennedy said on stage at the Ambassador moments before he was shot. “We are a great country and a selfish country and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running in the period of the next few months.”

While walking through the kitchen of the hotel, Sirhan approached Kennedy and shot him in the back from about one to three inches away, according to LA County Chief Medical Examiner and Coroner Thomas Noguchi, though witnesses said Sirhan was standing in front of Kennedy. Five others were wounded in the shooting. Olympic Decathlete Rafer Johnson and LA Rams defensive lineman Rosey Grier wrestled Sirhan to the ground. A total of eight shots were fired. Some believe there was a second shooter who was never identified, including Kennedy’s own son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has also become known for his vehemently anti-vaccine views.

“I have been a strong advocate for the release of Mr. Sirhan B. Sirhan since I learned of evidence that was not presented to the court during his trial,” Kennedy Jr. wrote in a letter to the parole board.

One of those five victims, Paul Schrade, also submitted a letter to the parole board in support of Sirhan’s release because he believes someone other than Sirhan is responsible, even though Sirhan confessed. Berry argued rehabilitation to the parole board, not innocence.

‘Neighbors were in support of Sirhan coming back to the neighborhood’

Sirhan was 12 years old when his Palestinian family fled Israel and settled in Pasadena in 1956. Before PCC, he attended Eliot Junior High and John Muir High School.

Now 77, Sirhan plans to live with his brother Munir Sirhan in Pasadena if released from prison, according to Berry. She wrote in a pre-parole hearing briefing that Sirhan’s “incarceration over the last 53 years has caused him to not only mature chronologically, but emotionally and spiritually,” calling him “rehabilitated.”

“He and Munir just want to live out their remaining years obscurely and privately,” she wrote.

Should Sirhan be released, before he can move to Pasadena, the parole board imposed a condition that he first live in a halfway house for six months, which could be but won’t necessarily be in Pasadena.

“That is just simply based on the fact that he’s been institutionalized for 52 years,” Berry said. “They want to make sure that there’s a structured support system around him, so that he could acclimate back into a free society.”

Sirhan’s residence in Pasadena is also dependent on whether or not he is deported upon release. Berry said she is unsure of his chances of being deported.

“He does have an ICE detainer on him,” she said. “However, when we did a Freedom of Information Act request for the status of any removal, I just got a response from ICE indicating that they have no records on him. So I don’t know what to make of any of that at this point. But assuming he stays in California, yes, he would like to live with his brother in their Pasadena home. And we also have letters from neighbors on the street who have known the Sirhan family since the 1950s. Four letters went before the board today from neighbors who were in support of Sirhan coming back to the neighborhood. They had no issues with that. And that was very helpful to the board, obviously, and their comfort level in releasing him.”

Berry first began representing Sirhan after his brother called her based on a recommendation from one of her other clients in the same correctional facility.

“I hadn’t thought about Sirhan Sirhan and didn’t even know if he was still alive,” she said. “I didn’t know much about the case on a day-to-day conscious level at all. I thought it was a prank call, so I wasn’t in a hurry to call the number back. The next day, I got a call from an author up in Portland, Oregon, who’s been writing some books on different conspiracy cases, like the JFK conspiracy, looking into an RFK conspiracy, and said, ‘We were concerned that because you heard the name that you wouldn’t want to take on the case. If you want to call me first, I can fill you in on what’s going on.’”

At first, Berry said she was hesitant to take on the case but reconsidered after speaking with Kennedy Jr. and Schrade.

“Because of the gravity of the case and the infamy of the case, it caused me to have to do some soul searching and decide whether or not I wanted to take this on,” she said. “First of all, take it on, and secondly, take it on on a pro bono basis. And after learning a little bit more and talking to victim Paul Schrade and talking to Robert Kennedy Jr., I was intrigued. And so, here I am now.”

‘But for his vicious act, the rest of U.S. history would’ve been different’

The argument Berry presented to the parole board wasn’t that Sirhan is innocent of the shooting, but rather that he has been rehabilitated in prison. She pointed out that the law in California presumes that a person will be released on parole, unless the board finds that the person is still a current risk of danger to the public.

“We focused on all the rehabilitation that Mr. Sirhan has been doing, as well as took advantage of new laws that have come into effect since his last parole hearing in 2016, which favor release,” she said.

Those new laws include youthful offender mitigation that the board is now mandated to consider. Sirhan was considered a youthful offender under California law, as is anybody who commits a crime under the age of 26. In previous parole hearings, the board ruled that Sirhan’s unstable childhood meant he was still a risk to society. The new law recognizes new neuroscience that shows human brains are still developing – particularly the prefrontal lobe, which is responsible for decision making, risk assessment and impulsivity control – until age 26.

“So that’s one new law that benefited Mr. Sirhan today,” Berry said. “And another new law that came into effect is the elderly prisoner consideration. The legislature also mandated that the parole board consider how long a prisoner has been in, their age and any age-related health issues that would also contribute to a diminished risk of future violence. So we just hammered in on all of those factors today: he was able to establish a lot of rehabilitation, he had a lot of people in support of his release. And we got it done. Hopefully it’s going to pass the board and the governor approves it, and there won’t be any more work to do.”

The hearing took place at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. Contrary to long-standing policy, a prosecutor was not there to argue against Sirhan’s release. Among the criminal justice reforms Gascón implemented upon taking office in December was the policy to send prosecutors to parole hearings to present arguments against granting inmates parole.

“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” Alex Bastian, special adviser to Gascón, told the Washington Post, discussing the policy change. “The parole board’s sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release. If someone is the same person that committed an atrocious crime, that person will correctly not be found suitable for release. One way or another, prosecutors will not be getting involved in this case. The parole board, however, has all the pertinent facts and evaluations at their disposal, including how someone has conducted themselves over the last few decades in prison.”

Kennedy Jr. said after the hearing that his father “would be really happy today. My father believed in compassion. The ideals of our justice system are the possibility of redemption and the importance of forgiveness. He didn’t believe the justice system was just about revenge.”

Harvard law scholar Laurence Tribe disagreed.

“I fail to see why Bobby Kennedy’s assassin should ever be released from prison,” he wrote on Twitter. “Even at 77, he could be a threat. And the enduring harm he inflicted was incalculable. But for his vicious act, the rest of U.S. history would’ve been different.”

 


Justin Chapman has been nominated for two Los Angeles Press Club awards, both for his story about Mad Mike Hughes in Alta Journal. The two categories are: (1) Hard News (One Day's Coverage of a Hard News Story), and (2) Obituaries/In Appreciation (Politics/Business/Arts Personalities), in Print/Online Outlets.

The awards ceremony will take place on October 16 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown LA.

Read Justin's award-nominated story here.

This is the second year Justin has been nominated for an LA Press Club award. The first year was in 2015 for his story about Joan Williams, Miss Crown City 1958 who was discriminated against by the city of Pasadena for her race and was denied her place on a float in the 1959 Rose Parade.


In season two of "Well Read," host and journalist Justin Chapman provides analysis on news, politics, arts, and culture and interviews special guests. Featuring segments by Senior Influencer Correspondent, @BradtheInfluencer, and Senior Toddler Correspondent, Sienna. Justin also provides recommendations for good reads in each episode.

In Episode Fifteen, Justin interviews HawaH Kasat, an author, artist, yoga instructor, community organizer, and founder and executive director of One Common Unity.

You can watch "Well Read" on YouTube or on PasadenaMedia.org's TV channels (32 on Charter Spectrum and 99 on AT&T U-verse in LA County) or streaming apps (FireStick, Apple TV, Roku, etc.).

Learn more at justindouglaschapman.com and sign up for my email newsletter at justinchapman.substack.com/subscribe. 




Author Michael Pollan on What Comes After the War on Drugs During a Vroman's Event

The bestselling author spoke about his new book This is Your Mind on Plants at a Vroman's event last week and talked about the looming end of the War on Drugs and what the subsequent drug peace should look like.

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 7/19/2021

Author Michael Pollan discussed his new book This is Your Mind on Plants on Monday in a virtual event co-sponsored by Vroman’s Bookstore, the Elliott Bay Book Company, Changing Hands Bookstores and Boulder Bookstore. Pollan was joined in conversation by Dr. Rick Doblin, the founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).

“It’s very hard to define what a drug is,” Pollan said. “Is sugar a drug? Anything we ingest that changes us in some way? That covers a lot of food.”

The book takes a deep dive into three plant drugs: opium, caffeine and mescaline. Pollan “examines and experiences these plants from several angles and shines new light on a subject that is often treated reductively—as a drug, whether licit or illicit,” according to a statement from the book’s publisher. “But that is one of the least interesting things you can say about these plants, Pollan shows, for when we take them into our bodies and let them change our minds, we are engaging with nature in one of the most profound ways we can.”

The book is “a radical challenge to how we think about drugs, and an exploration into the powerful human attraction to psychoactive plants—and the equally powerful taboos.”

Pollan experimented with all three drugs, wrote about his experiences and looked at them through historical, scientific, philosophical, literary and personal lenses. Ultimately, This is Your Mind on Plants asks its readers to reconsider the whole notion of what a drug even is.

Pollan is a New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including How to Change Your MindCooked and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He teaches writing at Harvard University and serves as the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

In examining opium for the book, Pollan planted poppies in his garden to make opium tea, an experience he originally wrote about for Harper’s Magazine in 1996. Lawyers at the time advised him not to publish such descriptions, but years later he “tracked down those missing pages” and included them in his new book for the first time in a reflection of changing attitudes toward certain drugs.

In examining caffeine for the book, Pollan said he quit cold turkey. He found that the world felt duller, that his “normal waking consciousness” was the result of caffeine and that much of society relies on a caffeinated consciousness.

In examining mescaline for the book—a precious sacrament in the Native American Church, the pan-tribal religion that emerged in the 1880s at a time “when Indigenous civilization in North America stood on the verge of annihilation”—Pollan interviewed Native Americans who claimed that peyotism and peyote ceremonies have “done more to help heal the wounds of genocide, colonialism and alcoholism than any other efforts.”

During Monday’s event, he pointed out that American society’s combative relationship to psychoactive plants is “arbitrary and has not worked. Drugs have won the War on Drugs. We’ve invested huge amounts of resources, incarcerated huge numbers of people and created horrible amounts of pain with the drug war. There’s lots of evidence that the drug war is running out of gas. The voters have spoken in many places. They’ve had it. Where do we go now? We now have to look beyond the drug war and figure out if it’s not gonna be a matter of the law, how do we deal with these substances in our society?”

Pollan also recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about the looming end of the War on Drugs and what the subsequent drug peace should look like.

“How will we fold these powerful substances into our society and our lives so as to minimize their risks and use them most constructively?” he wrote. “The blunt binaries of ‘Just say no’ that have held sway for so long have kept us from having this conversation and from appreciating how different one illicit drug is from another. That conversation begins with the recognition that humans like to change consciousness and that cultures have been using psychoactive plants and fungi to do so for as long as there have been cultures. Something about us is just not satisfied with ordinary consciousness and seeks to transcend it in various ways.”

Different types of drugs have been on different tracks in American society over the past several years. Cannabis has been largely legalized or decriminalized in most states, and in fact it is only fully illegal in just five states—and, of course, at the federal level. New science suggests that psychedelics such as MDMA, LSD and psilocybin have therapeutic benefits in treating conditions such as depression, anxiety, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pollan said MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly) and psilocybin (commonly known as magic mushrooms) are on track to be approved for use in psychotherapy within a few years, clearing the way for doctors to be able to prescribe these compounds.

“What about the so-called hard drugs, like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine—drugs that people ostensibly take for pleasure?” Pollan wrote. “Is there a safe way to fold these more addictive molecules into our lives? This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction.”

He argued that many people are surprised to learn that “the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom—of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress.”

He pointed out that in Switzerland, addicts can get prescription heroin so they know exactly what they’re getting.

“They don’t try to get you off it right away, but then they go to work on your life,” Pollan said at Monday’s event. “They make sure you have a good job, housing and therapeutic support, because the cause of your addiction has to do with your circumstances and difficulty in life. Addiction is not a disease, it’s a symptom of problems. Are we anywhere near that in this country? No, we still moralize these questions.”

Learn more at michaelpollan.com.






General Motors Announces $71 Million Investment in New Pasadena Location

Recently purchased three-building campus will serve as the automobile manufacturer’s Advanced Design Center


By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 7/13/2021

On Monday, General Motors announced a more than $71 million investment to establish a newly purchased three-building campus in Northeast Pasadena, where GM will operate its Advanced Design and Technology Center starting next year. The move will substantially increase the design division’s capacity and workforce.

“The collaborative nature of this facility will provide our advanced design team, cross-functional groups, prospective employees and external partners with the environment they need to continually redefine the boundaries of future mobility,” said Bryan Nesbitt, executive director of GM’s Global Advanced Design and Global Architecture Studios.

Last week, Pasadena Now first reported that GM bought The Sierra, a 150,000-square-foot campus, located on an eight-acre property at Rosemead Boulevard and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue, for $49.5 million. GM is relocating its design studio in North Hollywood to the Pasadena location, which will “significantly expand GM’s capacity to support emerging business opportunities in areas of advanced technology, software integration and future mobility solutions,” according to a statement by GM.

“Having a physical presence in Southern California’s technology epicenter is an integral part of our global design operations and this new innovation campus will not only expand our operations twofold, but offers access to the rich cultural diversity and talent in the region,” said Michael Simcoe, GM’s vice president of global design. 

“Our positioning will allow us to attract dynamic candidates in fields that will bolster GM’s proven design capabilities and challenge conventional thinking of what our future portfolio of connected products and services can encompass,” Simcoe said.

The retrofit improvements to the new facility are scheduled to be completed in the second half of 2022, according to Mark Lubin of GM’s product, brand and initiative communications team. GM’s design team and other cross-functional groups will transition from the current facility in North Hollywood in staggered phases as portions of the new facility are completed, rather than all at once. Advanced design operations will continue at the North Hollywood facility until the improvements at the new location are completed.

GM declined to comment on the exact timeline of when the first groups of employees will begin working at the new Pasadena facility.

GM selected the Pasadena campus after a thorough search process which considered a number of other locations elsewhere. The investment signals the company’s “long-term commitment in the area” and to maintaining a physical presence in “one of North America’s largest hubs for multidisciplinary design and cutting-edge innovation,” according to the statement.

“Ultimately, the new site was selected for a combination of its size, location and turn-key nature of the existing buildings (not new construction),” Lubin said. “Additionally, the new site is closer to technology centers on the West Coast and creates a recruiting opportunity with its proximity to leading universities and design schools.”

The relocation “will make room for expanded advanced technology teams that will help accelerate GM’s goal of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” according to the statement.

The move to Pasadena is part of GM Design’s broader global expansion. The company is currently constructing a new Design West facility at the Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, and also recently announced an expansion of the Advanced Design Center in Shanghai, China.

GM’s advanced design team focuses on developing concept and future mobility projects that fall outside the scope of existing production vehicle programs, according to the statement. “Creating alternative mobility applications can reveal opportunities for transformative innovation and help influence future GM products and services, while exploring new growth opportunities for the company.”

The company cited a number of examples of innovation and design work related to its broader growth strategy, such as BrightDrop, the newly established commercial delivery and logistics business and its all-electric ecosystem of products, software and services; Cadillac’s personal autonomous concept vehicle and vertical takeoff and landing aircraft; and a lunar rover concept developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin.

“The new facility will amplify GM’s role in the age of connected mobility, providing the latest tools, equipment and workspaces that have been tactically designed to foster synergy and ideation.”

Examples highlighted include a more efficient layout designed to mitigate disruptions and increase efficiency of the various paint, metal and plastic workshops; an increased footprint allowing for improved output of physical and virtual proof of concepts and show cars; the ability to rapidly pilot visualization and immersive technology, including augmented and virtual reality; an innovation lab for designing, implementing and validating new design tools; an advanced user experience/user interface design studio; and dedicated collaboration, research and development space for strategic internal and external GM partnerships.

GM has a long history of design facilities in California, including the Advanced Concept Studio in Newbury Park from 1983-1996 and the current North Hollywood studio, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Nesbitt said they’ve outgrown that studio and faced a number of constraints there. There are about 65 to 70 employees at the North Hollywood location. GM representatives said they’re not yet announcing how many more employees will work in Pasadena.

“We’re really excited that we could find a new property that could meet our capacity expansion needs,” Nesbitt said. “We build a lot of physical proofs of concepts,” such as show cars, he added, and the new Pasadena location will allow them to “explore those new opportunities.”

Much of that design work will be focused on advancing GM’s plan for an all-electric vehicle future.

Invezz.com and MarketWatch reported that GM’s stock jumped 4% on Friday after Wedbush Securities gave it an “outperform” rating, and that shares of the company have recovered more than 200% since March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

Wedbush’s market analyst Dan Ives is “confident that GM’s recent efforts into expanding its footprint in the electric vehicle segment will drive significant growth for the company in the future,” according to Invezz. “GM plans to spend $35 billion on R&D to accelerate its shift to electric vehicles and develop advanced battery technology.”

Ives said GM has “regained its spot in the league of top U.S. automakers, thanks to the competent leadership of CEO Mary Barra,” according to MarketWatch.

By leveraging the “game-changing” technology of GM’s Ultium battery, the legacy auto manufacturer is in a “great position to take advantage of an emerging $5 trillion battery market over the next decade,” according to Ives. GM’s software and services business related to its electric vehicle focus represents “a potential gold mine” with the potential to net $20 to $30 billion over the next five to seven years.