Previously on Forum

Residents of Lake County are starting to return home as firefighters put out the last remnants of the Clayton Fire, which burned nearly 4,000 acres and destroyed approximately 300 homes and buildings. The Clearlake man arrested for starting the fire is suspected to be a serial arsonist – he’s charged with starting 12 fires in the area and has been under investigation over the past year. In this hour, we talk with forensic investigators about what motivates arsonists and why so few are convicted in court.


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In “Jungle of Stone,” journalist William Carlsen recounts the story of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood whose perilous trek through the jungles of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico led to the discovery of ancient Mayan civilization. We’ll talk with Carlsen about their 2500-mile journey, which he retraced in a beat-up Toyota Corolla. We’ll also discuss the Mayan’s great achievements, why their sophisticated culture vanished and what can be learned from its collapse.

On Sunday, a federal court in Texas blocked an Obama Administration policy directing that transgender students at public schools be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The ruling, which applies nationwide, bars the federal government from enforcing the policy or investigating related discrimination claims. We discuss the decision and how it may affect ongoing transgender rights cases.

In a victory for teacher unions, the California Supreme Court Monday denied review of Vergara v. California, keeping in place a ruling that nullified a 2014 decision that California’s teacher protection laws were unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed that the education code made incompetent teachers too hard to fire and that, in effect, minority and poor students were disproportionately taught by ineffective teachers. Monday’s ruling stated that “Administrators — not the statutes — ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach.” We’ll discuss the court’s decision and possible next steps for groups challenging current teacher protection laws.

After gunmen opened fire on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year, Oxford University scholar Timothy Garton Ash urged media organizations to publish the cartoons that provoked the attack. A longtime defender of free speech, Garton Ash lays out his arguments to safeguard and promote the ideal in “Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World.” We’ll talk with the author about why he questions hate speech laws, derides college campus censorship and why he says it’s up to citizens, not governments, to champion free speech.

“There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites,” writes author J.D. Vance in his new memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” Born into a Scots-Irish family in rural Kentucky, Vance describes the economic anxiety, familial dysfunction and disaffection that characterizes today’s poor white Americans. We’ll talk to Vance about his memoir, hear his thoughts on why Trump appeals to low-income whites, and learn about his journey from Appalachia to the Rust Belt to Silicon Valley.

The Obama Administration announced last week that the federal Bureau of Prisons will end its reliance on privately-run, for-profit
prisons. The facilities, which the Justice Department calls unsafe and expensive, currently house about 22,000 inmates, almost all of whom are not U.S. citizens. While the move will do little to reduce the nation’s overall prison population — now numbering more than 2.2 million — supporters say it’s a crucial step in bringing about broader criminal justice reforms. We discuss the details of the policy change and the prevalence of private prisons across the United States.

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On Friday, the Red Cross declared the recent flooding in Louisiana the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy. With echoes of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, emergency crews in boats rescued stranded residents and people waded through waist-high water in their homes. The rain has damaged an estimated 60,000 homes and over 100,000 people have applied for federal aid as FEMA officials struggle to supply temporary housing. Both President Obama, who will visit the area on Tuesday, and the media have been criticized for not paying enough attention to the crisis. In this segment, we’ll check in on the disaster and get an update on recovery efforts.

In November, Californians will vote on Proposition 64, which seeks to legalize marijuana use for adults age 21 and older. This could mean big changes in Humboldt County, where an estimated quarter of the county’s economy is marijuana-related. The illegal industry involves more than a fifth of county residents and funds everything from schools to fire truck. In this hour of Forum, our first in a series of shows dedicated to Prop. 64, we discuss how legalization would change Humboldt’s culture and economy.

In 2000, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The case against Syed became the subject of the first season of Serial, the wildly popular podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig of This American Life. Syed’s story took a new twist recently when a Baltimore judge vacated Syed’s conviction and granted him a new trial. But Rabia Chaudry, a close family friend of Syed’s, says that the producers of Serial missed key evidence that points to his innocence. In her book, “Adnan’s Story,” Chaudry reveals new information and points to someone else that she thinks the police should investigate.

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UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday, as critics faulted him for his handling of the university’s $150 million budget deficit and a string of sexual harassment cases involving faculty. Most recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the campus paid more than $200,000 to improve Dirks’ “strategic profile.” Dirks, a noted historian and author, will join the UC Berkeley faculty full-time once a successor is appointed. We discuss Dirks’ tenure and what lies ahead for the university.

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The Altamont Free Concert, held 50 miles outside of San Francisco in 1969, featured the Rolling Stones, Santana and Jefferson Airplane and was billed as a “West Coast Woodstock.” But when the event turned violent and resulted in the death of four people, it “bookmarked the end of the 1960s,” according to rock critic Joel Selvin. He joins us in-studio to talk about his new book “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day.”

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