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Tuesday, April 8, 2008




(Campaign update as on 08-04-2008)

Dear friends,
It is 8 months since the campaign to raise the targeted amount of Rs 1.5 lakhs in rehabilitating Chithralekha by restoring her means of livelihood by procuring a new auto rikshaw for her, with the money raised from concerned citizens took off. The whole story needn't be repeated here, as we are too well aware of the background from which this campaign happened to take off.
Presently, we have an amount of Rs 70,000/= collected so far .You may please note that this is much below the target. We feel that this modest effort to raise funds can no longer be maintained indefinitely in time, and therefore, we have to close it without further delay. In order to meet our end, we are left with no option other than availing a loan for the remaining sum needed to purchase an auto rikshaw. With a view to minimising the burden of bank loan to the least extent possible on the Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee, we request that those who haven't already made a donation may do it immediately.
Please peruse here the details of contribution we received so far:
1.Salim T.K ( Thalassery/ UAE): Rs1,500.00
2.Jayasree A.K (Rajamundry,A.P) : Rs 1,000.00
3.Mr.K.K.Baburaj(Kottayam) : Rs 1,000.00
4.Dr Sivashankar (Chennai) : Rs 1,000.00
5.Sri.K.Panur (Kannur) :Rs 100.00
6.Jenny Roweena, }
Carmel Christy, Ranjith.R} Rs 10,000.00
and others (Hydbad), }
7.Jenson Joseph (Hydbad): Rs 1,000.00
8.P.V.Ayyappan(Trissur): Rs 1,000.00
9.Dr.A.V.Bharathan(Trissur): Rs 1,000.00
10.Dr.M.R.Govindan(Thrissur) Rs 500.00
11.Dr.K.K.Rahulan(Thrissur) Rs 200.00
12.C.R.Parameswaran(Thrissur) Rs 500.00
Rs 1,000.00+1,000.00= Rs 2,000.00
(MGU,Kottayam): Rs 1,000.00
(MGU,Kottayam): Rs 1,000.00
(MGU,Kottayam): Rs 500.00
17.Dr.N.J.Phillip(Kottayam) : Rs 1,000.00
18.V.P.Zuhara(Kozhikkode) : Rs 500.00
19.Deepa V.N( Kottayam) :Rs 5,000.00
20.Mythri, Roshni,
Sunitha, Vijaya(CDS,Tvm) : Rs 500.00


21.Dr.Alice(CDS,Tvm) : Rs 500.00
22.Dr.Anita Thampi(CDS,Tvm): Rs 500.00
23.B.R.P.Bhaskar(Tvm): Rs 1,000.00
24.Dr.Ranjini Lakshmi(CDS,Tvm): Rs 6,650.00
25.Dr.Shivanandan(CDS,Tvm): Rs 500.00
26.P.N.Gopeekrishnan(Thrissur) Rs 500.00
27.M/s.SNA Oushadhashala(Thrissur) Rs 500.00:
28V.G.Thampi (Thrissur): Rs 250.00
30.Hiranyan(Thrissur) : Rs 500.00
31.M/s Anveshi (Kozhikkode): Rs 2,000.00
32.Dr.Mini Sukumaran(Calicut University)
33.Ravi.P.C(Thrissur) : Rs 500.00
34.N.N.Gokuldas,(Thrissur) : Rs 1,000.00
35.K.Radhakrishnan(Thrissur) : Rs 500.00
36.Dr.Jayaraj,(Thrissur) : Rs 1,000.00
37.Anil, Altermedia(Thrissur): : Rs 250.00
38.K.V.Abdul Azeez(Thrissur) : Rs 2,000.00
39.Dr.T.T Sreekumar (Singapur) : Rs 6,000.00
40.Dr.K.V.Devadhasan(Payyanur): Rs 1,000.00
41.V.P.Sreenivasan(Payyanur) : Rs 1,000.00
42.K.M.Hrisheekeshan(Payyanur) : Rs 1,000.00
43.K.M.Nandakishor(Payyanur) : Rs 1,000.00
44.Dr.K.Aravindakshan(Thrissur) : :Rs 500.00
45.T.P.Yakub(Kozhikkode) : Rs 2,000.00
Dinesh,Dr.K.V.Balakrishnan, } : Rs 500.00
Dr.Geethakumari,Raju Kuttan,
(Calicut University)
47.Mohanakrishnan.V (Calicut University) Rs 500.00
48.Ganga Parvathi Shankar (Pune) : Rs 1,000.00
49.Ajesh C.A (Calicut University) : Rs 500.00
50.O.P.Ravindran (Calicut University) : Rs 500.00
51.C.R.Ramesh(Thrissur) : Rs 200.00
52.Harinarayanan (Mumbai) : Rs 1,000.00
53.U.K.Nair(Mumbai) : Rs 1,000.00
54.Harishankar,(Mumbai) : Rs 1,000.00
55.Dr.J.Devika (CDS) and others : Rs 1,100.00

Total amount so far: Rs 70,000.00(approximately)
This list is almost update, with the possibility of very few omissions ( for want of returns of the details/ pendency of remittance by friends who may be involved in collection)
We hope however, that the process will successfully be completed in another short


period, by active participation from everybody.
Chithralekha, had been violently deprived of her means of livelihood by political actors encouraged by the characteristically casteist and sexist mode of hate, which was ultimately played out against the victim. We need to take immediate steps to rehabilitate her, notwithstanding the outcome of the cumbersome legal battle (in which too, she needs support.)
It is proposed to shortly convene a well attended public meeting; prominent leaders and acivists will be invited to participate , and the keys of the new vehicle will be handed to Chithralekha in a different atmosphere of goodwill and better understanding,where the old hostilities are best expected to be rolled back.
Yours sincerely,
Convener, Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee.

Let's also go back to the original message by the Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee here, which may help recap the whole story . It also helps to find to where and how the donations ( very much needed still), are to be sent .

Subject: An Appeal Made On Behalf of The Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee, Kannur, Kerala

[Following is the translated text of an appeal released at a press conference on 26-09-07 in Kannur, by the Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee, Kannur, Kerala ]

Dear friends,
Despite our pride in having achieved 100% literacy, we have to acknowledge sadly that Kerala's social life continues to be reigned by several unwrit rules of caste and gender, rather than by law. A series of incidents that took place at Edat (Payyanur, Kannur District) starting from organized abuse and harassment of a dalit woman at her workplace, physically attacking her for having complained to the police, and finally seeing her only means of livelihood, an autorikshaw, destroyed by unknown persons setting fire to the vehicle in the dead of night, and to cap these all, a CITU autorikshaw workers' union coming out openly to defend the accused persons, seems to demonstrate this.

Chithralekha had procured her autorikshaw under the PMRY Scheme in October 2004. Nevertheless, she had to wait for three months before the permission to park her vehicle in the Payyanur College bus stop Autostand as well as the membership in the Union was given to her by the CITU Union.
When finally she did succeed in this, she was greeted by an all-male group of non-dalit


autoworkers by the following comments"Look, the pulachi ( female gender for pulaya, name of a prominent SC) is coming with with her auto".

Since then, Chithralekha had to suffer a host of humiliations and untold sufferings. On 11-10-2005, Ajith, a fellow auto driver tore the hood of her vehicle. She complained to the Union only to be ridiculed and turned back. Further, a complaint made to the Police ended up with her tormentor being warned by the police. Obviously outraged by this daring act of Chithralekha petitioning against a comrade to the police, Ajith along with Pavithran, Naveen and Rameshan physically attacked Chithralekha at her workplace, the auto stand on 14-10-2005 morning. They publicly dragged her out from the vehicle and drove one of the autorikshaws on to her body, which caused injury to her leg serious enough to stay as inpatient in the Payyanur Govt hospital for many days. As they were doing all these acts of brutality, one of them shouted these words" pulachies of your ilk in future shall never ride auto here, and it is the union's decision"

The above incident has been booked by the Payyanur Police under various sections of IPC as well as under sections of the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act of 1999. This case with FIR No 367/05 is presently posted for trial before the Special Court (SC/ST Atrocities), Thalassery.
We believe that but for the timely intervention of the District Level Monitoring Committee which is a statutory committee for monitoring such cases of atrocities against dalits, the above mentioned case would not have been booked at all; on the contrary, the dominant caste-gender set up in combination with the generally existing status-quoist bias of individual police officers would have ensured impunity for the offenders and further institutionalization of such crimes.
Even against the successful intervention on the part of the Dist Level Monitoring Committee to get the case booked and properly pursued, collectively expressed hatred and openly displayed hostility against Chithralekha were only heading to a point of vantage. In the night of 31-12-2005, her vehicle was burned by unidentified persons. This incident was registered as FIR No 474/05 in the Payyanur Police Station.
As we hear further stories of intimidation and demoralizing of witnesses by several quarters of vested interests with a view to weakening of these cases as such, we notice that unless the civil society actively involves in the process of bringing justice to the victim, this kind of crimes motivated by caste and gender is going to get institutionalized.
Chithralekha is presently dependent solely on the Monitoring Committee that includes a few civilian(dalit) representatives and the State mechanism available. While it needs to be clearly reiterated that without such State mechanism it would not have been possible to bring the culprits to book under the relevant provisions of law, the ridiculously unwarranted attempts to impose virtual compromise on the victim by intimidating and demoralizing her witnesses and in many other ways need to be resisted. The absolutely unfair interventions of political manipulators to protect the non-dalit, male accuseds from the reach of law, in this case, should be effectively challenged by vigorous pursuit of the Rule Of Law by an informed civil society.
It is worth mentioning in this context, that a citizens' action committee based at Payyanur was indeed on the scene until April 2006 to support Chithralekha. The committee though succeeded in getting an auto for her on rental basis and as part of their endeavour to


restore work to Chithralekha, it became defunct soon after the election campaign for the Kerala Assembly picked up momentum. Due to several reasons, Chithralekha was virtually compelled to return the hired vehicle to its owner. Since then, she had to support herself and her family by going outside for unskilled labour in the building sector, evenwhile she refused to compromise in her determined struggle against the cast-gender hostilities still propagated against her.
On the 29th August of this year, a new initiative to support Chithralekha came to existence by forming a new forum based at Kannur, the District headquarters. The meeting convened by Dr D.Surendranath was personally attended by Mr. K.K.Kochu,the well known dalit leader.Several other prominent dalit activists and intellectuals had also extended thier support to this initiative. This committee was named as Chithralekha Punaradhivasa (Rehabilitation) Committee and it took stock of the situation as a whole.,against the background of conspicuous lack of any collective expression of solidarity with her continuing struggle.The next meeting of this committee on 4-09-2007resolved to extend unconditional support to Chithralekha in her struggle for justice.The committee identified the urgent need of rehabilitating Chithralekha, with the work as well as a nightmares-free workplace restored to her. For this, it was decided to purchase a new autorikhshaw for her by collecting the necessary fund from the people. For carrying out this effectively and transparently, Dr Surendranath(Chairman), Mr.P.K.Ayyappan (Treasurer) and Mr.K.M.Venugopalan (Convenor) would jointly operate an account in the Thalap branch of the Kannur District Central Co-operative Bank in connection with collecting and depositing of a targeted fund of Rs1,50,000/=
While we ourselves fully endorse the above mentioned objectives of the Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committee,Kannur, we would like to request the entire civil society of Kerala to come forward in support of these causes ,viz; of ending hostilities toward a dalit woman and allowing the law to take the right course on the one hand, and helping rehabilitation of Chithralekha by restoring her means of livelihood and work.

Hence,we request everybody to make contribution to the Cithralekha Rhabilitation Fund either by depositing direct to Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee SB Ac. No.1 of Thalap branch of CDCC bank of Kannur ( Kannur District Central Co-operative Bank), or by sending in Ac.Payee Cheque or crossed DD payable at Kannur, or Money Order, to the following address :-


Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee,

Pallikunnu P.O., Kannur.

Among the persons who have already signed this draft are ---Bhargavi Thankappan (former Dy Speaker,Kerala Assembly), L.Natarajan ( Retd IAS),K.C.Venu ( Retired Director, Public Relations, Thiruvananthapuram) K.K..Kochu (Dalit activist and writer),Sunny Kapikkad (Dalit writer and activist, Kottayam) , M.B.Manoj ( Poet and Dalit activist, Kottayam), Rekha Raj (Dalit Women's Forum, Kottayam), K.Panur (Senior


campaigner and writer on Adivasi-Dalit issues & Human Rights, Kannur), K.Venu , Dr.M.Gangadharan, Dr .A.K.Ramakrishnan (School Of International Relations, MG University, Kottayam), K.Ajitha (Campaigner in Womens' issues and the leading activist in Anweshi, Womens'Organization, Kozhikkode) , A.Vasu ( Human Rights activist, Kozhikkode), Dr.J.Devika (CDS, Thiruvananthapuram), V.P.Zuhara ( Nisa,Organization For Progressive Muslim Women, Kozhokkode) , Anivar Aravind (Greenyouth Forum& GAYA, Trissur), B.R.P.Bhaskar (senior Human Rights campaigner and journalist, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr.V.C.Harris (School Of Social Sciences, MGU, Kottayam) , C.K.Janu (leader, Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha, Wynad), Prof Sara Joseph ( Literatuer and Womens' Rights campaigner, Thrissur), Advocate P.A.Pauran (PUCL-Kerala, Manjeri), K.Haridas ( writer and Human Rights activist, Mumbai ), Dr.Jenny Roweena (Writer and Researcher in Gender and Caste Issues ,Hydbad), Carmel Chrity (Research Scholar, Hyderabad Central University & activist researcher In Gender and Caste ), Elizabeth Philip( Sahaja, Womens' Rights organization, Kottayam), Ranjith Thakappan ( Lecturer, Indira Gandhi Open University, New Delhi), I.Gopinath (Media Initiatives and Human Rights activist, Thrissur), Sarat (Thirdeyefilms , Ernakulam), A.Arun (Research Scholar, Hyderabad Central University), P.Baburaj (Thirdeye films,Ernakulam), K.K.Ushakumari (Janakeeya Samskarika Kendram, Kodungallur), Radhika Menon (Forum For Democratic Initiatives,New Delhi), Vinod.K.Jose ( Human Rights activist and Fellow, Columbia Journalism School, New York), K.P.Sasi( Human Rights activist and film maker, Bangalore), Bauraj.K (writer and activist, Kodungallur), Shyla.K.John (Secretary, AIMSS, Kerala), Advocate Kasthuri Devan (social activist, Kannur), Dr.A.K.Jayasree( womens'rights campaigner,Rajamundri, A.P) ,Dr.K.M.Seethi (School Of International Relations and Political Science, MG University, Kottayam), Deepa V.N (Sahayatrika, Kerala), Girija K.P (Kerala),S.Sanjeev (Kerala), Rev Sunil Raj (Bangalore), Mustafa Desamangalam ( Media and Films activist, Kerala), Sudeep Joseph (Bangalore), Bobby Kunju (Human Rights and Legal activist,New Delhi),Sandhya P.C (GAIA,Thrissur, Kerala), Anil Tharayath Varghese (National Centre For Advocacy Studies, Pune), Dr.Ratheesh Radhakrishnan (Kerala), Shinaj.P.S(Hyderabad Central University), I.K.Shukla (Writer, Los Angeles ) ,Sushovan Dhar (Radical Politics,Mumbai).Subhash Lokjith (Pune), Sukla Sen, (Peoples' Media Initiative, Mumbai ), George Pulikuthiyil (Jananeethi Institue, Kerala), Bindhulakshmi (Hyderabad), Ajay(People's Watch), Dr.Sanal Mohan (School Of Social Sciences, MGU,Kottayam), Salim.T.K (Greenyouthsgooglegroup), Savad Rahman (Journalist, Kochi),Rajesh Ramakrishnan (Activist and Researcher, New Delhi), Dr.Soma Marik( Kolkatha), Dr.T.T.Sreekumar ( Academic / Asst Professor, National University Of Singapore), Gilbert Rodrigo (Pondicherry Fisher peoples' forum),T.Peter (Secretary, National Fishworkers' Forum & President, KSMTU,Kerala), Dileepraj ( writer and Human Rights campaigner, Kerala ).

We look forward to your co-operation in further spreading the message.


thanking you,
for Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee, Kannur .
Kindly use the following postal addresses/ emails as well, for future communication:

( Chairman, Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee),
Pallikkunnu P.O;
Kerala (State),
Pin code- 670004
email: dskannur@gmail.com
phone: 04972-701279

Convenor, Chithralekha Rehabilitation Committee, Kannur.
email: kmvenuannur@gmail.com
phone: 09447488215.

Member, Chithralekha Punaradhivasa Committe, kannur
email: ckvishwanath@gmail.com
phone: 04985-277680.

With immense gratitude to everybody and In solidarity,

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

USA 2008: The Great Depression?

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USA 2008: The Great Depression?

By David Usborne

01 April, 2008
The Independent

We knew things were bad on Wall Street, but on Main Street it may be worse. Startling official statistics show that as a new economic recession stalks the United States, a record number of Americans will shortly be depending on food stamps just to feed themselves and their families.

Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.

The increase – from 26.5 million in 2007 – is due partly to recent efforts to increase public awareness of the programme and also a switch from paper coupons to electronic debit cards. But above all it is the pressures being exerted on ordinary Americans by an economy that is suddenly beset by troubles. Housing foreclosures, accelerating jobs losses and fast-rising prices all add to the squeeze.

Emblematic of the downturn until now has been the parades of houses seized in foreclosure all across the country, and myriad families separated from their homes. But now the crisis is starting to hit the country in its gut. Getting food on the table is a challenge many Americans are finding harder to meet. As a barometer of the country's economic health, food stamp usage may not be perfect, but can certainly tell a story.

Michigan has been in its own mini-recession for years as its collapsing industrial base, particularly in the car industry, has cast more and more out of work. Now, one in eight residents of the state is on food stamps, double the level in 2000. "We have seen a dramatic increase in recent years, but we have also seen it climbing more in recent months," Maureen Sorbet, a spokeswoman for Michigan's programme, said. "It's been increasing steadily. Without the programme, some families and kids would be going without."

But the trend is not restricted to the rust-belt regions. Forty states are reporting increases in applications for the stamps, actually electronic cards that are filled automatically once a month by the government and are swiped by shoppers at the till, in the 12 months from December 2006. At least six states, including Florida, Arizona and Maryland, have had a 10 per cent increase in the past year.

In Rhode Island, the segment of the population on food stamps has risen by 18 per cent in two years. The food programme started 40 years ago when hunger was still a daily fact of life for many Americans. The recent switch from paper coupons to the plastic card system has helped remove some of the stigma associated with the food stamp programme. The card can be swiped as easily as a bank debit card. To qualify for the cards, Americans do not have to be exactly on the breadline. The programme is available to people whose earnings are just above the official poverty line. For Hubert Liepnieks, the card is a lifeline he could never afford to lose. Just out of prison, he sleeps in overnight shelters in Manhattan and uses the card at a Morgan Williams supermarket on East 23rd Street. Yesterday, he and his fiancée, Christine Schultz, who is in a wheelchair, shared one banana and a cup of coffee bought with the 82 cents left on it.

"They should be refilling it in the next three or four days," Liepnieks says. At times, he admits, he and friends bargain with owners of the smaller grocery shops to trade the value of their cards for cash, although it is illegal. "It can be done. I get $7 back on $10."

Richard Enright, the manager at this Morgan Williams, says the numbers of customers on food stamps has been steady but he expects that to rise soon. "In this location, it's still mostly old people and people who have retired from city jobs on stamps," he says. Food stamp money was designed to supplement what people could buy rather than covering all the costs of a family's groceries. But the problem now, Mr Enright says, is that soaring prices are squeezing the value of the benefits.

"Last St Patrick's Day, we were selling Irish soda bread for $1.99. This year it was $2.99. Prices are just spiralling up, because of the cost of gas trucking the food into the city and because of commodity prices. People complain, but I tell them it's not my fault everything is more expensive."

The US Department of Agriculture says the cost of feeding a low-income family of four has risen 6 per cent in 12 months. "The amount of food stamps per household hasn't gone up with the food costs," says Dayna Ballantyne, who runs a food bank in Des Moines, Iowa. "Our clients are finding they aren't able to purchase food like they used to."

And the next monthly job numbers, to be released this Friday, are likely to show 50,000 more jobs were lost nationwide in March, and the unemployment rate is up to perhaps 5 per cent.


First Chapter: 'The Appeal' (March 30, 2008)

Peter Mendelsund

Thrillers thrive on villains and heroes, and usually these characters are not overly complicated; writers don't want to confuse or slow the plot. In John Grisham's page turners the villains are corporate titans and their lawyers, and the plucky, idealistic heroes (played in the movie versions by Tom Cruise in "The Firm" and Julia Roberts in "The Pelican Brief") are renegade lawyers or law students, shocked into action by the corruption they have stumbled across.

Grisham sticks with his formula for the villains in "The Appeal." But he paints a more complicated picture of the heroes, while making an important point about how the justice system in more than half of the 50 states is increasingly threatened by the kind of big-money gutter politics that have made so many Americans disgusted with Washington.

Grisham's heroes in "The Appeal" are plaintiffs' lawyers, the much maligned litigators who represent victims of alleged corporate wrongdoing. Their excuse for taking a third to 40 percent of their clients' winnings — even if those winnings are in the millions or billions (in the case of mass tort claims against asbestos or tobacco defendants) — is that their little-guy clients don't have the money to pay hourly fees in advance of a verdict, and that it's those big paydays that give them the incentive and resources to take on risky cases that deliver powerfully deterrent punishment to those who would otherwise keep committing all kinds of corporate jihad. It's an argument, however, that's been undermined by the spectacle of trial lawyers cashing in on cases where deep-pocketed, well-insured defendants who might not be fully culpable or culpable at all threw in the towel out of fear that sympathetic juries were too easily rewarding any tug at their heartstrings, and by revelations of corruption in recruiting clients and divvying up fees among fellow vultures of the bar who did little more than race to the scenes of tragedies.

Grisham presents both sides. While plaintiffs' lawyers are the heroes in this fast-moving, smartly constructed tale, they also come off as greedy, self-absorbed and repugnant — true ambulance chasers. In fact, at the small, beleaguered Mississippi firm run by his two heroes — the husband-and-wife team of Mary Grace and Wes Payton — a paralegal asks during some down time from the big case if he can go back to chasing ambulances, literally.

To be sure, Payton & Payton are doing God's work. They've spent years representing a woman in a small town in Mississippi whose husband and son died within weeks of each other, victims of cancer allegedly caused by deliberate cost-cutting spills into the town's drinking water by big, bad Krane Chemical. The Paytons' painstaking marshalling of the evidence against Krane makes for a seemingly indefensible defendant. The cancer rate in the town has become 15 times the national average. The town's water is so fouled that the swimming pool has long since been closed and bottled water is trucked in daily for everyone. No one would consider drinking out of the taps; even showering is a bungee jump.

In the real world, most companies would settle a case like this. (Although in the real, real world, no evidence would be as lopsided as Grisham makes it.) But Krane is part of a Manhattan-based conglomerate run by Carl Trudeau. And Trudeau is not settling with anyone.

Trudeau is a parody of evil, Grishamstyle. No shades of gray here. He's an East Side Manhattan insider-trader, corporate killer and philanderer so devoid of redeeming qualities that he even dislikes the 5-year-old daughter he's procreated with the latest trophy wife.

Mary Grace and Wes Payton have had to endure years of the pretrial war of attrition that companies like Krane can throw at plaintiffs. Having ditched other paying clients to concentrate on this case, they've had to sell their house and their car, and move with their two young children into a shoddy rental, where they can afford to hire only an illegal immigrant to be the nanny.

risham opens "The Appeal" with the verdict about to be announced, finally, after 71 days of a mind-numbing trial. Facing the sleepless Paytons in the tense small-town courtroom is a team of well-coiffed corporate litigators. Grisham captures the leader's "I'm getting $500 an hour no matter what these goober jurors say and we'll win on appeal anyway" smugness exactly as I saw it when I was covering trials like this.

I'm not giving anything away by revealing that after 10 pages of overwritten setup, the Paytons win a $41 million verdict, which in theory means $13 million-plus for them and $29 million for their longsuffering client. It also means the start of the appeal process, which is when the real story begins.

Now that one jury has punished Krane and made potential millionaires of the Paytons and their still-teary client, dozens of trial lawyers swarm the town to recruit others who've been harmed. There have already been hundreds of other cancer deaths. Thousands more are sick, and others, encouraged by their new lawyers, will now claim to be sick. Grisham treats us to a vivid picture of the good, the bad and the ugly (mostly bad and ugly, except for Mary Grace and Wes) of plaintiffs' lawyers as they try to cash in on the victory by going after Krane for what could be billions in damages when all the claims are added up.

But the even better action is on the other side. Trudeau, the chief executive who controls Krane, soon hears — through a corrupt Southern senator — about a shadowy man in Florida who operates a secretive political consulting firm that can save Krane. How? Because Krane's appeal of the Paytons' case will go to the Mississippi Supreme Court in the next year or so, and Krane won't have to pay anyone a penny if the court throws the case out.

It turns out that in Mississippi (as in about 30 other states) the top jurists are elected, and one swing-vote justice happens to be up for election in the coming year. What follows is more political than legal thriller. The consulting firm, having taken an $8 million fee (by way of Bermuda) from Trudeau, targets and anoints as their candidate an obscure Mississippi lawyer. He's never been a judge, much less thought about being a Supreme Court justice. But he's a great family man and right on conservative issues (even those irrelevant to Mississippi jurisprudence but good for TV ads). He's especially right on his view of the need for upstanding corporations to be safe from suits by gluttonous plaintiffs and their sleazy counsel. The consultant's operatives tell the credulous lawyer that they represent conservatives who want to protect the nation's courts. Thus, because he's the model of probity and common sense that the Mississippi court needs, they'll contribute millions for a media blitz to support his candidacy. What's more, they'll find and finance a full campaign staff. Meantime, Krane's lawyers file blizzards of paper to ensure that the appeal to the Supreme Court won't be heard until after the judicial election.

An utterly depressing political campaign ensues, in which the scholarly, middle-of-the-road and blindsided incumbent Supreme Court justice is painted in attack ads as a left-wing woman of loose morals. Meanwhile, the Krane consultant's Manchurian challenger, coached by a platoon of operatives who would make Karl Rove blush, preens in 30-second TV spots with his family and his hunting rifle.

There's lots of other intrigue worthy of a Grisham novel — missing witnesses, destroyed evidence, insider stock trading. It's a shame, though, that Grisham's grace in constructing a sophisticated story is so poorly matched by his writing. Clichés and redundancies ("lavish splendor," "a hothead with a massive ego who hated to lose") fill the book, and at times his weakness with words is painful to watch. His description, for example, of Trudeau's anorexic wife at a charity dinner reads as if someone new to English decided to mimic "The Bonfire of the Vanities."

Still, Grisham keeps his story moving. And he not only moves to a surprising ending but makes a real point about how judicial elections undermine the integrity of any justice system. It's bad enough that those in our executive and legislative branches can take contributions from people who have business before them to finance elections quarterbacked by spinmeisters and filled with phony attack ads. But the notion of obscure judges — charged with ruling objectively on crucial, complicated points of law — being showered with millions from lawyers, litigants and other special interests who have cases before them is worse.

One of the publications I used to run, The Texas Lawyer, once did a series of articles on elections for that state's highest court. (We also made a small fortune selling ads to judicial candidates looking for contributions from our lawyer-readers.) Our exit polls found that voters typically knew nothing about the people for whom they had just voted, and that they mostly made their choices on name recognition. Texas was also the state where one obscure lawyer seemed to have been elected a justice simply because his name sounded like that of a respected former Texas politician.

To be fair, in many states big business started to sponsor judicial candidates only after realizing that the trial lawyers had beat them to it. Thus Texas and Mississippi had become what our publication called "plaintiffs' paradises," places where juries would indiscriminately reward plaintiffs' lawyers and their clients, and the appellate courts would go along. Grisham's story doesn't quite convey that Mississippi had, before the emergence of this Krane-sponsored Manchurian judge, become a plaintiffs' paradise, but he implies it in the way he describes the corporate reaction to the Krane case. More important, he focuses on the absurdity, no matter which side you are on, of judicial elections. Unlike a lot of novels and TV docudramas that selectively latch onto facts to create a false picture, "The Appeal" delivers a real picture of a real problem. And, it all goes down easily because he spins it around such a gripping tale.

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always want to defend peace, justice, peoples' right to love each other and live with dignity,struggles against parochial visions and hatred;instinctively a defender of socialist and democratic values