VIDEO: Will Dallas Follow Other Cities by Issuing a Smoking Ban in Public Parks?

May 11, 2011 by · Comments Off 

Video and editing by Meredith Carlton

For decades, smoking has been a controversial issue and the subject of a number of laws throughout the country.

In Texas, smoking has been prohibited in a number of places since 1997 from elevators to hospitals. But in 2008, Dallas County passed their own set of smoking bans extending them into all enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants.

After the new mayoral election on May 14, Dallas County could see a new smoking ban in place for public parks.

“A park is by definition a public place,” Joe Kobylka, SMU political science professor, said. “You have a right to be in a park and you don’t have to be licensed to be in a park…so it’s a different kettle of fish.”

Although this ban might seem strange to residents of Dallas, a number of other cities have issued the bans in parks. Raleigh, North Carolina and New York City are just two cities in the United States that passed the measure.

However, smokers in Dallas are not fond of the possibility.

“I’d probably smoke anyways,” Daniel Garza, Dallas resident, said. “I don’t think that (the bans) would stop people from smoking, it would just make controversy.”

If the new Mayor of Dallas does try to implement the ban, officials said it would be hard to monitor it. Currently, Dallas County already has an ordinance that is said to be difficult to enforce—drinking in public parks.

“Finding a way to percent anyone from smoking or drinking in our parks just isn’t going to happen,” Dave Strueber assistant director of the West region for Dallas Park and Recreation Dept. said.

In addition to enforcing the law, many are skeptical if a smoking ban in parks would have any effect at all.

“If people do continue to smoke in parks, they will realize it’s largely a toothless law and more of a symbolic statement than anything else,” Kobylka said.

Some believe the new ban would be beneficial and the new mayor should consider the possible ban.

“Parks are suppose to be clean, fresh air, a chance to run around and that sort of a thing,” Mandy Trexel, SMU freshman, said. “If you go over there (to a park) and someone’s smoking it kind of ruins it for you.”

Garza disagrees.

“I feel that as Americans we have the right to smoke,” he said. “I believe it’s one of our freedoms and it’s upsetting to me the government is trying to hold us back from our rights and what we want to do.”

Dallas County residents will not know if the ban is a possibility until the new mayor is elected.

Dallas Mayoral Candidates Debate Issues at SMU

April 19, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Praveen Sathianathan

Video By Bridget Bennett

Education, the city’s budget, the Trinity River project and the development of South Dallas were the focus of the Dallas mayoral race’s first televised debate Tuesday night.

Former Police Chief David Kunkle, Council member Ron Natinsky, businessman Edward Okpa and former Pizza Hut CEO Mike Rawlings took part in the one-hour debate at SMU’s Hughes-Trigg Theater.

Mayoral Candidates prepares for questions at the Dallas Mayoral Debate at SMU on Tuesday, April 21st at SMU. (PHOTO BY MEGHAN GARLICH / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Moderated by CBS 11 anchor Doug Dunbar, candidates were asked questions by a panel of journalists including Jessica Huseman, politics editor at The Daily Campus.

The debate began with candidates being asked what city services should be cut to help balance the budget in lieu of a shortfall that could range from $40 to $100 million.

Rawlings said besides crime prevention and economic development “everything else is on the table.”

“Got to make sure that everything is on the board, but lets not cut across the board,” Rawlings said. “We got to do it strategically. What are the major initiatives we got to face? Get the city council unified and then get the city manager to do her job.”

Kunkle said the city should start the budget process earlier than they do.

“I don’t think there is anything easy to cut in the budget anymore,” Kunkle said. “We can’t make cuts without affecting critical city services.”

He said it was important to look at “what business the city should be in.”

Kunkle said he would like to, as much as possible, “maintain core city services: police, fire, city enforcement and streets,” but said it would be hard with another difficult budget year.

Natinsky agreed saying it is a tough budget year, but added that it’s not like the last few Dallas has faced. Citing projections of the increase in sales tax and other activities in the city, Natinsky eluded to signs that there maybe a recovery.

“We have a good chance of coming very close to possibly balancing the budget, certainly without a tax increase or having to cut any essential services,” he said.

Okpa said if the city “regresses the budget by three percent we can easily fix the budget, but if we do it now, what about next year?” he asked.

He then suggested the city “take a critical view of the structural challenges of the budget.”

All candidates also expressed the need to improve Dallas schools.

Kunkle said the city needs to “continue to facilitate and help grow neighborhood after-school programs” and that it needs a stronger commitment from the business community.

Natinsky agreed with Kunkle on the importance of after school programs, but stressed Dallas’ “great history of public and private partnerships.” He suggested that parents need to be actively involved in the educational process.

He said without solving the problems of education, “we can’t deal with economic issues we are facing and we can’t continue to grow the city.”

Opa agreed with the necessity to get parents involved, and complimented the Dallas Independent School District on the good job it has already done.

“If I show you the school I went to in Nigeria, I think DISD is a heaven,” he said.

Rawlings said education was the most important issue Dallas faces for “we are educating our children and it’s our future.”

“Never be a great city without great public education,” he said. “Must do something structural and must do something sustainable.”

He said it was integral to work with other urban mayors in other parts of the state, energize non-profit organizations and those that want to lift the school system.

The candidates also focused on the development of south Dallas many times during the night. The issue is considered to be a hot topic, since the area lacks many of the amenities, such as restaurants and businesses, that are found in the northern parts of the city.

Social media also played a role in the debate as students and Dallas citizens could ask questions through Twitter or Facebook. According to Dunbar, one of the reoccurring themes was about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A question from SMU Dedman I Senator Harvey Luna, on how to make Dallas “a more gay-friendly city” was selected and answered by the candidates. Praising the diversity found within the city, all the candidates agreed that Dallas’ LGBT community should have a place in the city.

Rawlings said: “We have the human capital, but for too long we’ve been divisive. We have African Americans, Hispanics and whites, we have gay and straight. That attitude is going to hinder that growth.

“Some of the greatest and most exciting ideas are coming from the GLBT community,” he said. “We have got to make sure they have a place at city hall, a place in business and a place socially in the framework and fabric of this city.”

The debate ended with closing statements from the candidates, which included their main goals for the city.

David Delafuente, president of the Texas College Democrats, said it was a great opportunity for SMU to host such an event.

“As an SMU student who lives in the City of Dallas in the southern sector, I felt that Mike Rawlings had the best vision for the neighborhood I come from and hope to go back to after I finish my education at SMU,” he said.

SMU junior Samira Abderahman said that she feels lucky to go to a school where the city’s mayor candidates come to speak to the community.

“I cant say now that I am not educated enough to vote,” she said. “This gave me an opportunity to deal with issues that citizens of Dallas need to know about.”

The debate was sponsored by The Daily Campus and CBS 11. A student steering committee, led by Huseman, helped organized the event, working on the logistics for two months. The other members of the committee were Chad Cohen, president of SMU College Rebuplicans, Adriana Martinez, opinions editor of The Daily Campus and Alex Ehmke, student body vice president elect.

Huseman said the debate has come a long way from where it started. She said she was talking to Delafuente about debates his organization has hosted and randomly came up with the idea for The Daily Campus to host the debate.

“Looking at it tonight, we had an hour of live television that went on without a hitch,” she said. “I thought it was infinitely more successful than what I first thought it would be.”

DISD Offers Teachers Incentive to Resign

April 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment 


By EJ Wall

Rebecca Hays is leaving the Dallas Independent School District after 33 years of teaching, but she is not leaving empty handed. DISD is paying her to retire—up to $10,000. And she isn’t alone. DISD recently offered all eligible teachers an incentive to resign. Teachers who took the incentive would receive 15 percent of their salary, or up to ten thousand dollars, if they would resign now and work until the end of the current school year.

DISD schools have already lost more than 700 teachers to the incentive program and will continue to lose hundreds more as the budget cuts become finalized.

The school district is offering the incentive as a way to cut the budget and prevent more teacher layoffs. Across Texas, school districts are slashing budgets and laying off teachers to cut costs. The state could have an estimated shortfall of up to $27 billion next year and education is on the chopping block.

The “worst-case scenario” for the DISD budget would be an estimated loss of $253 million in state funding, according to the DISD’s Preliminary Budget Reduction Plan, which was presented to Trustees last month.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa recently revealed the district’s latest budget-reduction plan outlining $150 million in cuts. That figure is based on four assumptions that have yet to happen, one of which is that the state will give the district $40.2 million from the Rainy Day Fund. Texas lawmakers have yet to put forth any bill that would allow tapping into the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund, which is made up of revenue from oil and gas taxes.

“It is important to know at the outset that this plan does not replace the worst-case scenario plan presented last month,” Hinojosa said in an online message to the district. “The plan presented today would obviously be an improvement over the previous plan, but not by much.”

Under the proposed plan, the teaching staffs of all DISD schools would be cut by almost 13 percent. At the minimum, 1,298 teachers will be laid off next year, saving the district more than $68 million dollars.

“In either scenario we’re going to have to have personnel cuts, this is our reality,” Hinojosa said.

More than 700 teachers signed paperwork committing to the incentive program, costing the district $6.5 million dollars. This loss of teachers, coupled with the 3,900 lay-offs that could happen under the worst-case scenario, means DISD could lose almost one-fourth of its educators. Many teachers who accepted the resignation incentive are those who have been with DISD the longest.

“I feel like DISD is losing some of its best teachers because most of those leaving are veteran teachers with many years of experience and expertise,” Hays said.

Some special programming will be cut under the proposed budget and stipends will be decreased. But what DISD will be losing the most of is its teachers. The loss will result in increased class sizes, to a 30-to-1 average student-teacher ratio from the current ratio of 25-to-1. Larger class sizes have some DISD teachers concerned for the future of their students.

“I work with young children and they need as small a class as possible to help them learn when they are in this critical, developmental stage,” Melissa Alloway, a first grade teacher at Stonewall Jackson Elementary, said. “Cutting teachers will mean that children will make less progress, feel less supported, and perhaps less motivated to learn.”

The increase in class size will also change the role of teachers, according to Nancy Roberts, a professor of education at SMU.

“When classes reach sizes of 30 to 35 kids, the teacher becomes more of a classroom manager rather than an educator,” she said. “This is true for elementary school classes all the way to up high school classes.”

DISD parent Dana Bleakney said she definitely thinks an increase in class size will affect her daughter’s education and suggested alternatives to cutting teachers.

“I would not be opposed to a combination of using some of the Rainy Day Fund with a small tax hike,” Bleakney whose daughter attends Stonewall Jackson Elementary, said. “Whatever it takes to preserve the quality of our schools.”

The district is cutting teachers first and Roberts said they are the one asset that should not be cut.

“DISD schools are struggling already, cutting the teachers will only make it worse,” she said.

In 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics ranked Texas 43 in the nation in per-pupil expenditures. Cutting the education budget could drive the ranking down further.

There is little to no funding for new teacher salaries, and the DISD caps salaries after a number of years, which makes it that much harder to entice good teachers to the profession.

“Really good teachers might be motivated to stay if there was an incentive,” Alloway said. “This buyout only made it easier to leave.”

Roberts said the quality of DISD education depends on the caliber of teachers the district can retain.

“Education is personal, there has to be a direct contact,” she said. “This contact does not exist without the teacher, the bottom line is, if we want to have well-educated Texans, we have to have good teachers.”

The Demeter Project Redefines the Workplace

March 11, 2011 by · Comments Off 


By Meredith Crawford

On a recent Sunday afternoon at It’s a Grind Coffee House in Deep Ellum, quiet customers sit comfortably with their newspapers and laptops. However, this place is a little different than the many other coffee spots dotting the Dallas landscape.

“I like that it’s not Starbucks,” said Laura Negus, a librarian at the Baylor College of Dentistry and a frequent It’s a Grind customer.

The It’s a Grind franchise in Dallas is owned by the Demeter Project. The company says it is redefining the workplace by placing a higher value on service jobs by paying their employees more. Cannon Flowers’, chief executive officer of the Demeter Project, said his initial objective when starting this project in 2007 was to address underpaid jobs.

“People in the service industry are taken advantage of,” Flowers said.

In addition to paying their employees a higher salary, the Demeter Project sees importance in hiring people other corporations would typically turn away. Flowers said that people in the service industry often do not get a second chance.

Veronica Sterling, one of the baristas at It’s a Grind, found out about the job opening when she was staying at the Grace House. Grace Unlimited is a transitional, residential environment for women recently released from prison. According to Sterling, getting this job was by the grace of God.

“Before, I couldn’t make ends meet,” Sterling said.

According to city statistics, of the 2.4 million people who live in Dallas County, between 17 and 23 percent are living below the poverty level. With minimum wage at $7.25, Flowers said that for those in poverty, there is a huge difference between what they are making and what it costs to live.

Veronica Sterling, It's A Grind employee (Photo By Meredith Crawford/Beyond the Bubble)

The Demeter Project was founded in Dallas and remains a local establishment. It receives its funding through investments and revenue.

The Demeter Project is also own Chill Bubble Tea located on Inwood Road. They primarily serve a drink called boba tea, a combination of fruits or teas poured over tapioca pearls. Through this location, the Demeter Project hopes to continue making a positive change in the community.

“We want to make places where the community can come together,” Flowers said.

Flowers said that he would hire anyone regardless of their background, as long as they’ve never harmed another human being. He said that there are exceptions to this rule, but violence is completely against the company’s philosophy and the symbol that inspired its name; Demeter, a goddess in Greek mythology.

The company chose her as a symbol because she recognized the cyclical nature of life as the goddess of fertility, vegetation, and grain. Employees also like that Demeter encouraged humans to grown their own food instead of the violence of hunting.

Sterling appreciates the respect she gets from her managers and said it really makes It’s a Grind a great place for her to work.

“They all make us feel like we’re important,” Sterling said.

The Demeter Project also practices what Flowers referred to as a 360-degree angle of ethics and respect. The philosophy means that not only do they emphasize the importance of respect for employees, but for their employees to carry on that respect to their families and customers, Flowers said.

Before Negus even knew about the Demeter Project’s connection, she noticed that the people were more friendly at It’s a Grind. Along with her appreciation of their high quality coffee, music and atmosphere, she likes that It’s a Grind is committed to the neighborhood.

It's A Grind customer Laura Negus (Photo By Meredith Crawford/Beyond the Bubble)

The Demeter Project has a sense of community responsibility and gives a portion of their profits to care-based agencies in North Texas, said officials. They also encourage their employees to volunteer at local non-profits.
“We don’t just work in the community, we live in the community,” Flowers said.

The Demeter Project’s goal is to improve the community through its efforts in the workplace. Flowers noted that the employment of Sterling is evidence enough that they are going in the right direction.

“In the time that she’s worked for us she’s made great progress on a personal level,” Flowers said. “She is proof that this business model works.”

In addition to finding a job, Sterling said that by working at It’s a Grind she has gained more independence and control in her life.

“Working here is like being at home,” Sterling said.

Dallas County District Attorney Speaks at SMU

February 24, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Bridget Bennett

Dallas County District Attorney Speaks at SMU from on Vimeo.

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins spoke at an SMU Faculty Club luncheon Wednesday. Watkins, a Dallas native, is serving his second term as the first African American District Attorney in Texas. He has partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas to exonerate the wrongfully convicted in Dallas County.

Watkins’ spoke about these exonerations, touching on the role media played in raising awareness. Watkins said wrongful convictions are deplorable for the pain they cause those who have been wrongfully imprisoned. But the involvement does not stop there, Watkins said.

“When we make a mistake, when someone has been convicted for something they didn’t do. Inevitably, the individual that did do it continues to commit crimes,” Watkins said.

The majority of people who are in jail, Watkins said, are addicted to some illegal substance, uneducated, or without a skill set. Watkins expressed the importance of rehabilitation programs to prevent future prosecutions. He also talked about the ratio of taxpayer money spent on one inmate in a prison versus the amount money spent on his education before he committed that crime. The latter had far less invested.

Equality and trust in the criminal justice system also came up in the speech. Watkins said that citizens do the sentencing during jury duty and need to take their job seriously for the justice system to properly function.

Referring to SMU, Watkins said students are the future of change for this country. He charged the faculty with the important role of teaching students to be involved in government and politics, but to also have the courage to stand up for what is right.

Religious Refugee Makes a Difference

December 13, 2010 by · 8 Comments 

By Ariana Garza

Iranian-born Sina Sabet is a religious refugee who spends most of his week trying to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged youth from around Dallas County.

Sabet, 20, is a freshman at Richland College and is studying to be a middle school teacher. In less than four months this year, he implemented 13 junior youth groups in Dallas County as part of a worldwide Baha’i Faith spiritual empowerment initiative. His goal is to establish 20 groups by April 2011 and he is corresponding with Dallas police and Dallas Independent School District faculty and staff to do so.

Sabet’s junior youth groups are geared toward helping young people from any socioeconomic, cultural or religious background learn how to be comfortable in their own skin and give back to their community. The Baha’i, non-profit, Dallas-based Martha Root Training Institute sponsors the groups, which are restricted to 12 to 15-year-olds. As determined by the Baha’i Faith, this age group is the most susceptible to mental and ethical change.

The Baha’i Faith was founded in Iran in 1844 and, even though it preaches a message of world peace, it has been persecuted in Iran ever since. Sabet fled Iran in 2005 at the age of 15.

In a group reaching out to eight youth among the Villas of Bent Trails, Covington Pointe Apartments and Bent Tree Forest Condominiums, the topics of bullies, gangs, therapy, and family issues were up for discussion one night recently. Eleven-year-old Israel Lopez discussed his problems with bullies at school. Lopez said that his classmates often tease him for being “too short.” Maria Prado, 14, the oldest of the group, was quick to offer advice.

“It doesn’t matter what height you are, it doesn’t matter how you look, it doesn’t matter what shoes you’re going to wear tomorrow,” Prado said. ”What’s important is your personality and what’s in your heart.”

While none of the group that Lopez and Prado is involved with comprise gang-related members, some of the other groups that Sabet works with do.

Even though Sabet implemented the groups, he does not manage each neighborhood group himself. Sabet functions as a program coordinator for all 13 groups, but doubles as an “animator,” who guides discussion topics and ensures that the youth stay on track, in two neighborhoods. Including Sabet, there are 10 animators that service the 13 groups. Groups always meet within one of the participating members’ apartment complexes.

During each session, the group starts out with a prayer, from any religion, which is sometimes followed by a Baha’i prayer. Although the program is Baha’i-inspired, neither its members nor its coordinators seek to proselytize. Participants remind each other of their self-made pact: A list of standards that they aspire to live up to during their time together. The pact typically consists of a promise to abstain from backbiting and gossiping. Members of the group are also encouraged to discuss what is on their mind.

For all of her advice at the recent meeting, Prado still struggled with the concept of racism. Prado said that she does not understand why different ethnic groups at school discriminate against one another.

But she is sure of one thing: “When I grow up, I want to be a leader,” Prado said.

After highly sensitive, personal stories were shared and a few tears were shed, the group remained confident in each other and in their ability to confide in one another.

Maria and her sister, Nayeli, 13, who live in the Villas of Bent Trails, always look forward to participating in the program, even after a long day at school.

“It’s the best thing that’s happened to me,” Nayeli said. “My life has changed.”

Even though the group in her neighborhood has only been together for a couple of weeks, Nayeli said she feels like it has already made her a better person. Before she joined the group, she did not talk to anybody about her problems.

“I would just stay quiet, go somewhere nobody could see me, and cry,” Nayeli said.

Although Sabet is making strides with the junior youth spiritual empowerment groups, he cannot forget his past.

When Sabet fled Iran, he and his family traveled by train to Turkey and sought aid from the United Nations office in Ankara. After a series of interviews, the U.N. decided to send Sabet and his family to the United States, which was already accepting Baha’i refugees.

Sabet was not fluent in English when he and his family arrived in New York City on Sept. 8, 2006. The next day, Sabet and his family flew to Dallas to take a shot at the American dream and, for the first time, experience religious freedom.

After his culture shock subsided, Sabet eventually got involved with soccer, the yearbook, track and field, cross country and student government at Emmet J. Conrad High School—he even ran for junior class president.

“I was so eager to use these different opportunities,” Sabet said. “I was on fire.”

After a year and a half at Emmet J. Conrad High School, Sabet transferred to Plano West High School.

Sabet is currently studying to be a middle school teacher at Richland College—an opportunity that would not be available to him if he had stayed in Iran. Sabet said that members of the Baha’i Faith were not permitted to enroll in any form of higher education past high school. Even today, Baha’is cannot enroll in colleges or universities in Iran.

Sabet said that his non-Baha’i, Iranian classmates would tease him and ask him why he even bothered coming to class since he knew that he could not continue his education after high school.

“You grew up knowing that you were being discriminated against,” Sabet said.

Sabet said that the majority of Iranian citizens, even his teachers, were brainwashed against the Baha’is and could not believe that he was a Baha’i when he told them.

Sabet’s program has created a safe haven for young teens like Nayeli.

The Prado sisters are always on the lookout for new recruits and were successful in recruiting their friend, Cody Pleasants. Maria Prado and Pleasants share the same bus stop and, even though Pleasants is new to the Dallas area, he immediately got involved.

“We just moved here and I think it’s awesome he has people to hang out with,” said Robin Bridges, Pleasants’s mother.

The program places a high value on transparency with participants’ parents and guardians. Each participant must have adult consent to participate in the program and, after each session, program animators, like Sabet, escort the teens to their doors.

After the discussion session, the teens gear up for activities, which typically range from sports to problem solving games and icebreakers. After a few activities, the class sits down to their reading material, “Breezes of Confirmation,” published by Development Learning Press.

Employing a series of short stories and short answer questions, the workbook is designed to help junior youth develop a sense of sound moral judgment and function as a guide for its readers, who are making the transition from childhood to adolescence.

Over the course of the program, the group is expected to devise a community service initiative specific to their community. The program focuses on creating leadership among members by allowing them to choose their service initiatives.

While Sabet is able to promote his Baha’i-based junior youth spiritual empowerment groups here in Dallas, his first cousin, who stayed in Iran, was not as fortunate. Raha Sabet was arrested in 2006 for putting together a similar group in the Iranian village known as “Mehdi Abad,” which is now a neighborhood in Shiraz.

After the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the persecution of Iranian Baha’is occurred more frequently and became systematic. Even though Raha’s group became integrated with a local non-governmental organization and had the support of a number of Muslim locals, the Iranian government under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad eventually caught wind of the group and arrested everyone involved. After the arrests, the government decided to release the Muslim participants, but detain the Baha’is.

Raha and two other Baha’is were sentenced to four years in prison on false accusations of proselytizing. The 51 Baha’i youth involved were threatened with one year in prison, if they continued to participate in the program, and a compulsory three-year Islamic education class.

During solitary confinement, Raha developed ovarian cysts and now must be taken to the hospital for treatment on a regular basis. Raha should be released in one year.


The Baha’i Faith is an independent world religion that was founded in Iran by Baha’u’allah in 1844. The Faith preaches a message of the oneness of mankind: This message comprises the Faith’s goal of racial unity, equality of men and women and, ultimately, a universal civilization.

In addition to world unity, the Baha’i Faith preaches progressive revelation. Progressive revelation, as defined by the Baha’is, is a concept that incorporates the founders of each of the major world religions. Baha’is believe that each of the divine messengers (i.e. Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Baha’u’allah ) is part of a larger whole, whose common purpose, overtime, is to promote spiritual and moral maturity among the human race.

Common themes of the Baha’i Faith are: the abandonment of all forms of prejudice, equality of men and women, recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth, the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth, universal education, independent search for truth and the recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

There are approximately five million Baha’is worldwide.

The persecution of the Baha’i Faith can be traced back to its origins. After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, the persecution of the Baha’is intensified and became systematic. Persecution came in many forms: denial of education, destruction of graves and holy sites, imprisonment and even martyrdom.

The Iranian Baha’i community comprises the largest minority religion in Iran. The fundamentalist Muslims in Iran, and in other Middle Eastern countries, have labeled the Baha’i Faith as heretical, and therefore justify the persecution of the Faith.

The Faith’s founder, Baha’u’allah, suffered a series of imprisonments and was ultimately exiled to what He called “The Most Great Prison,” a prison in Akka, Israel. The grounds of his imprisonment were for preaching a new religion.

In recent years, the Iranian government arrested seven Baha’is, two women and five men, known as the “Yaran” (Friends). The Yaran were arrested in 2008 on accusations of espionage and collaboration with Israel. Baha’i representatives denied the charges. Prior to their arrest, the Yaran were prominent, individual Baha’is that were well known within the Iranian community for their professional lives and their service to the community.

Nobel laureate, Shirn Ebadi, decided to represent the Yaran in court. The Iranian government, however, denied the Yaran of due process. Ebadi reportedly fled Iran for fear of arrest. After two years in Evin Prison, and numerous, groundless delayed trials, the Yaran finally received their sentence. The Yaran were initially each sentenced to 20 years in prison; however, the sentence was later reduced to 10 years.

American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested in Iran in January 2009. Saberi was charged with espionage, but she denied the charges. During her imprisonment in Evin Prison, Saberi met the two female members of the Yaran. Saberi was released on May 11, 2009 and is now outspoken against the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran.

Big D Blog: Dallas County waits on more H1N1 vaccines

October 23, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Estela Nunez

Does it seem like you’ve been hearing that the swine flu vaccines are making their way to the Dallas area?

In the past two weeks Dallas County received 1,400 doses, but have yet to receive any additional vaccines.

It has been said that vaccines will not be offered to the public until the local supply is increased.

This doesn’t sound to good considering that there have been 11 confirmed swine flu deaths in Dallas County thus far.

So why has Dallas County received insufficient vaccines?

Well according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), Texas as a whole has received fewer doses than any other state. Why you ask?

Texas asked for less vaccines than any other states, therefore it received less.

According to the CDC the only other state that received a lesser amount is Mississippi.

I guess the only alternative till then is to follow the H1N1 prevention tips

Election Blog: Dallas Election Musings

November 4, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Sam Todd, 9:01 p.m.

With last week’s early voting reports already in, and some votes from today’s polling places in as well, some races are not going as predicted. In the race for Dallas County Tax Collector, Democrat John Ames is challenging 20-year incumbent David Childs, and with 200 of the county’s 708 precincts reporting, Ames is leading Childs by more than 10 percent of the votes.

It’ll be interesting to see if this Democratic challenger will be able to overcome the 20 years Childs has filled the seat. In other local races, incumbent Democrat Lupe Valdez is leading Republican Lowell Cannaday by more than 12 percent of the votes reported. Incumbent Texas State Representative Tony Goolsby, who represents North Dallas, is trailing Democratic challenger Carol Kent by more than 5 percent of the votes.

We wont know until all votes are reported, but as of now it looks like some races may end in surprise upsets. Dallas County election reports will be updated on throughout the night, so make sure to check their site to stay up to speed.

Some Dallas Republicans Shifting to Obama

November 4, 2008 by · Comments Off 

By Michelle Gillespie

Holly Giffin, an administrator at Baylor Health Center, has voted on the Republican ticket in every presidential election for the past 32 years but when she voted early this year, she cast her vote for Barack Obama.

“I was too fearful that if we elected again a Republican who has voted in line with Bush that we would see four more years of the same. I’m not willing to pass that onto my son,” Giffin said.

Giffin is among a growing number of voters in traditionally conservative Dallas County who say they are switching allegiances this election to vote for Barack Obama.

“He is willing to talk to the people and answer the hard questions such as what are you going to do for me to change the economy in the next four years? He answered those questions and I just don’t feel like McCain did,” Giffin explains.

Jesse Garcia, director of the Stonewall Democratic Party of Dallas, echoes Giffin’s concern about McCain.

“He’s attached to a party and a president that is very unpopular. The economic downturn is being blamed solely on the Republican administration,” Garcia says.

Garcia believes McCain’s 2008 campaign has not excited voters in the same way he did in 2000.

“They’re saying ‘Where is that maverick that we saw in 2000 that was ready to buck the party?’”

But some aren’t convinced that the democratic turnout is because Republicans have crossed party lines. Dallas County elections administrator Bruce Sherbet says it has to do with demographics.

“I think it’s like any large urban area that you look at—the changing demographics and how they effect how voters swing one way or the other. I’m not sure you’ve had loyal Republicans desert their party,” Sherbet says.

Sherbet says it’s tough to say how many voters have crossed party lines this year, but he did say that the record turnout of early voters from both parties in Dallas County is a good indicator that the outcome will be a close one.

Politics Blog: Early Voting Continues through Oct. 31

October 24, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Donnie Wyar

Just a reminder for those who haven’t yet made it to the polls, the early voting period will continue through Friday Oct. 31.

Its nice that during the early voting period, you can vote at any location in the county in which you are registered.

On election day, however, you must vote at your precinct polling location.

Avoid the lines and chaos of election day by getting out there ahead of time.

For residents of Dallas County, here is a list of times and locations for early voting.

More information for student voters is available at the Texas secretary of state’s website.

Google also has a great tool with more information for voters, including absentee ballots — which must be received by your election officials by Tuesday Oct. 28.

Simply enter your home address and it takes you from there.