While most of America is thinking burgers and swimming this Labor Day weekend, I can't stop thinking about earthquakes.
Last Sunday, a shaker registering 6.0 on the Richter Scale struck the Napa Valley in northern California. It injured dozens and caused about $1 billion in damages. National media coverage focused on how the quake affected the area's famous wine industry — because America needs to know that our stock of Cabs and Zinfadels is safe.
I, on the other hand, immediately remembered the Big One: the catastrophic quake that seismologists have long predicted will wreak havoc on Southern California someday... but no one knows when. So every little movement, every sway of a lamp or rattle of pans puts me on edge, makes me duck and cover. And after the Napa quake, I turned to Simon Winchester's excellent book A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 — you know, for some light reading.
The book was released on the centennial of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, which killed over 3,000 people and essentially leveled the city. Winchester details the devastation—houses turned into piles of sticks, blocks leveled by fires that followed, thousands left homeless for months. But the book's most terrifying passage takes place on the morning of the quake. Here, Winchester describes the calm before the disaster hit: "The breeze was westerly but light. Dawn was unfolding quietly, serenely. All was perfect peace."
Clichéd? Sure. But that's the scary thing about earthquakes: you never know when they're coming, or where.
Only one thing is certain: scientists say the San Andreas Fault that caused the San Francisco quake will unleash the Big One sooner rather than later. So I guess I'll just wait for it, and read and re-read Winchester's book again until then. Happy Labor Day!
Gustavo Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif., and author of the book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.
Rick Scott, Florida's GOP governor, has come under criticism for his record on the environment, as the national NextGen Climate Action PAC runs TV ads attacking Scott. Now, as his re-election bid nears November, he's rolling out his own proposals for safeguarding the state's water and wildlife preserves.
The Justice Department has weighed in on a class action lawsuit in South Dakota pitting Native American tribes against state officials, and come down resoundingly in support of tribes.
It's the first time the department has intervened in a federal district court case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law meant to keep Native American families together. The department filed an amicus brief in the case concluding that the state is violating the rights of Native American parents.
In the suit, tribes claim the state is failing to abide by the 36-year-old federal law, removing hundreds of Indian children from their families in court hearings where parents are rarely allowed to speak, and that often last less than 60 seconds.
The children are then placed in foster care, where they may stay for months or years.
"It's disgraceful," says Stephen Pevar, who is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, which has brought the suit along with the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes.
As part of the lawsuit, the state had to turn over rarely seen transcripts of 120 recent court hearings. In every one, the Native American children were taken into state custody.
Not a single parent was allowed to testify at the hearings. Most were not allowed to say anything except their names.
"These were virtually kangaroo courts," Pevar says. "There was nothing, nothing that any of the parents did or could have done. It was a predetermined outcome in every one of these cases."
In one case cited in the lawsuit, children were taken away from a mother whom the state said neglected them. Their father, who was divorcing the mother, appeared at the hearing and said, 'I am here, please give custody of my children to me.' The judge placed the kids in foster care.
In another example, a mother returned home from work to find her children had been taken away when her babysitter got drunk. She went to the hearing to explain she was the mother. Her children were also placed in foster care.
"This violates every concept of humanity," Pevar says. "If you have a right to a prompt hearing when [your] automobile is seized. They have a right to a prompt hearing when their children are seized."
State officials declined NPR's request for comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Pevar says the suit has been a long time coming.
"There a crisis in many parts of the United States and there has been one for decades involving the forceable removal of Indian children from their homes by state judges and social services employees," he says. "This lawsuit seeks to do something about it."
In its brief, the Justice Department wrote that state court and state officials with the Department of Social Services have an obligation to "actively investigate and oversee emergency removals of Indian children to insure that the removal ends as soon as possible, and that Indian children are expeditiously returned to their parents or their tribe" from the beginning of the process with the first court hearing to the end.
The Indian Child Welfare Act mandates that states must place children with their tribes, their relatives or Native American foster parents if they have to be removed from their families.
In South Dakota, almost nine out of 10 Native American children are placed in non-Indian homes or group homes, says Chase Iron Eyes, a staff attorney with the Lakota People's Law Project.
"It's a human rights crisis what's going on," he says.
This year, seven of the state's nine tribes applied for federal planning grants, which the help of the law project, in an effort to develop their own foster care programs. State officials have said they support that effort.
"We're trying to turn the whole system around," Iron Eyes says, "and give that power back to where it belongs - the power to raise our own families."
Iron Eyes says the future of Native American tribes depends on it.