Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for September 2011

America’s secular revival

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Religion

The GOP’s weird war on Planned Parenthood

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The GOP periodically gets a bee in its collective bonnet that won’t go away and seems immune to facts. An example: “voter fraud”, which every serious study has found is essentially nonexistent, is a big GOP warcry. (The reason, of course, is to put in place procedures and requires that impact potential Democratic voters—the poor, the elderly, the marginalized—and keep them from voting. In the GOP, a sign of good citizenship is making sure that only voters from your party gets to vote. Seriously. The whole party’s like that now.)

Planned Parenthood—which offers a broad range of women’s health services aimed at empowering women—has long been in the GOP’s cross-hairs: one thing the GOP does NOT like is empowering women. Jillian Rayfield reports for TPMMuckraker:

House Republicans have announced an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s funding, in the latest move in the seemingly endless effort to cripple the women’s health service provider.

Last week, the Oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), sent a letter to Planned Parenthood requesting around twelve years of financial documents as part of an investigation into whether the women’s health organization is misusing its federal funds.

“The committee has questions about the policies in place and actions undertaken by PPFA and its affiliates relating to its use of federal funding and its compliance with federal restrictions on the funding of abortions,” Stearns said in the letter.

Under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used for abortions, and the organization submits to yearly audits to that end. But the committee’s requests are still aimed at making sure Planned Parenthood isn’t violating this law, asking for internal audits of how the organization spent its federal funds between 1998-2010, and how “segregation between family planning and abortion services is accomplished.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the investigation “politically motivated” that “is a continuation of the efforts of earlier this year to undermine Planned Parenthood, and more disturbingly, women’s access to the primary and preventive care they need.”

On Wednesday, Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Diana DeGette (D-CO), ranking member of the Oversight subcommittee, sent a letter to Stearns decrying the investigation and questioning ” whether Planned Parenthood is being singled out as part of a Republican vendetta against an organization that provides family planning and other medical care to low-income women and men.” . . .

Continue reading.

And here’s another article on the GOP’s war on women by Sarah Seltzer in Salon (from AlterNet):

Every day, it becomes a little bit harder for women to get the healthcare they need in America, particularly if that healthcare has anything to do with sexual and reproductive health.

The “war on women” began almost the moment that 2011’s new class of legislators took their oaths of office, and it’s still going on as we speak. Anti-choice groups have successfully created blueprint legislation for waiting periods, parental consent laws, mandatory ultrasounds and targeted regulations of clinics. These kinds of laws have been passed in statehouse after statehouse.

With such a steady attrition of rights, it’s hard to keep up the momentum, anger and outrage that we felt this winter and spring. But people should still be outraged, because a number of states are avidly participating in a race to the bottom, determined to outdo each other in restricting access to abortion, chipping away at the fundamental promise of Roe v. Wade, and belittling women and their healthcare providers in the process.

Leading the way are Ohio, Virginia, Kansas and South Dakota. Other states, like Indiana and Missouri, already have so many restrictions of various types in place that they’re going to be hard to catch up with.

Here’s a rundown of what’s happening state by state, and which states are really making it worse for woman.

Ohio: A fetal heartbeat law that would outlaw abortion before most women know they’re pregnant

Ms. Magazine’s Holly L. Derr reports from Ohio on a new law that has dire implications: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

As businesses take over governments, citizens object

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The previous post described how businesses are making inroads into taking over law enforcement, and we’ve already seen private companies waging war. The fact is that private companies have realized how much money lies in national treasuries, and they aim to get it. The US has already seen hundreds of billions of dollars flow from government coffers directly into the waiting hands of big businesses in the finance industry, who helped write the laws that created the crisis and then the laws that gave them the money, helped all along by their deputies in the Executive branch.

Oddly, people don’t much like their governments being taken over by businesses. Nicholas Kulish reports in the NY Times:

Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strikeIsrael reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.

“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anticorruption measure to hold public officials accountable. “We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”

Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government

Interesting development in the private-prison industry

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Having private businesses run our prisons, fight our wars, and in general take over government services to run them for a profit is an interesting development. When you’re a business, profits must of course increase, and at a steady clip. This often involves creating legislation and situations that allow the companies to lock up more people. Of course, they also cut prison costs to the bone: any sort of treatment or counseling or effort to help the prisoners make it as citizens once they’re released—well, in the first place, having those programs costs more than not having them; and in the second place, if the prisoner is released and is unable to function in mainstream society, it’s good news for the company, because they get hm back again as a prisoner.

It’s not a good dynamic, but it’s in full swing and more and more governments turn their functions over to private industry—or, equivalently, as more and more countries are de facto government by big corporations.

Nina Bernstein reports in the NY Times on this transition:

The men showed up in a small town in Australia’s outback early last year, offering top dollar for all available lodgings. Within days, their company, Serco, was flying in recruits from as far away as London, and busing them from trailers to work 12-hour shifts as guards in a remote camp where immigrants seeking asylum are indefinitely detained.

It was just a small part of a pattern on three continents where a handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns onimmigration into a growing global industry.

Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

“They’re very good at the glossy brochure,” said Kaye Bernard, general secretary of the union of detention workers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, where riots erupted this year between asylum seekers and guards. “On the ground, it’s almost laughable, the chaos and the inability to function.”

Private prisons in the United States have long stirred controversy. But while there have been conflicting studies about their costs and benefits, no systematic comparisons exist for immigration detention, say scholars like Matthew J. Gibney, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who tracks immigration systems.

Still, Mr. Gibney and others say the pitfalls of outsourcing immigration enforcement have become evident in the past 15 years. “When something goes wrong — a death, an escape — the government can blame it on a kind of market failure instead of an accountability failure,” he said.

In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.

No country has more completely outsourced immigration enforcement, with more troubled results, than Australia. Under unusually severe mandatory detention laws, the system has been run by a succession of three publicly traded companies since 1998. All three are now major players in the international business of locking up and transporting unwanted foreigners. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Business, Government, Law

Did the terrorists win?

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The US government has made rapid progress toward destruction of the Bill of Rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Given the degree to which we no longer respect the rule of law (protect torturers, assassinate citizens without due process, seize computers at the borders, and so on), one would have to think that the terrorists have succeeded in quite a few of their aims, including draining the US Treasury with pointless foreign wars.

Take a look at these articles:

Nick Baumann writes in Mother Jones about how the FBI gets foreign governments to do its interrogations since those governments operate without restrictions of the US Constitution.

Glenn Greenwald has an interesting column summarizing the number of terrorist plots the FBI has concocted, recruited young men for, and then pounced, arresting all and pumping out press releases about how great the FBI is (according to the FBI) for foiling yet another terrorist plot. But these plots are the FBI’s own creations. He’s quite specific and has links that support his assertions.

And note this comment by Greenwald on Obama’s citizen-assassination program:

It was first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom the President had ordered assassinated without any due process, and one of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki.  No effort was made to indict him for any crimes (despite a report last October that the Obama administration was “considering” indicting him).  Despite substantial doubt among Yemen experts about whether he even has any operational role in Al Qaeda, no evidence (as opposed to unverified government accusations) was presented of his guilt.  When Awlaki’s father sought a court order barring Obama from killing his son, the DOJ argued, among other things, that such decisions were “state secrets” and thus beyond the scrutiny of the courts.  He was simply ordered killed by the President: his judge, jury and executioner.  When Awlaki’s inclusion on President Obama’s hit list was confirmed, The New York Times noted that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.”

After several unsuccessful efforts to assassinate its own citizen, the U.S. succeeded today (and it was the U.S.).  It almost certainly was able to find and kill Awlaki with the help of its long-time close friend President Saleh, who took a little time off from murdering his own citizens to help the U.S. murder its.  The U.S. thus transformed someone who was, at best, a marginal figure into a martyr, and again showed its true face to the world.  The government and media search for The Next bin Laden has undoubtedly already commenced.

What’s most striking about this is not that the U.S. Government has seized and exercised exactly the power the Fifth Amendment was designed to bar (“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”), and did so in a way that almost certainly violates core First Amendment protections (questions that will now never be decided in a court of law). What’s most amazing is that its citizens will not merely refrain from objecting, but will stand and cheer the U.S. Government’s new power to assassinate their fellow citizens, far from any battlefield, literally without a shred of due process from the U.S. Government.  Many will celebrate the strong, decisive, Tough President’s ability to eradicate the life of Anwar al-Awlaki — including many who just so righteously condemned those Republican audience members as so terribly barbaric and crass for cheering Governor Perry’s execution of scores of serial murderers and rapists — criminals who were at least given a trial and appeals and the other trappings of due process before being killed.

From an authoritarian perspective, that’s the genius of America’s political culture.  It not only finds way to obliterate the most basic individual liberties designed to safeguard citizens from consummate abuses of power (such as extinguishing the lives of citizens without due process).  It actually gets its citizens to stand up and clap and even celebrate the destruction of those safeguards.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:37 pm

Redistricting tricks: How to undermine democracy

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Interesting report by Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson, and Lois Beckett at Pro Publica:

Their names suggest selfless dedication to democracy. Fair Districts Mass. Protect Your Vote. The Center for a Better New Jersey. And their stated goals are unarguable: In the partisan fight to redraw congressional districts, states should stick to the principle of one person, one vote.

But a ProPublica investigation has found that these groups and others are being quietly bankrolled by corporations, unions and other special interests. Their main interest in the once-a-decade political fight over redistricting is not to help voters in the communities they claim to represent but mainly to improve the prospects of their political allies or to harm their enemies.

The number of these purportedly independent redistricting groups is rising, but their ties remain murky. Contributions to such groups are not limited by campaign finance laws, and most states allow them to take unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the source.

Today’s story is the first chapter in an in-depth examination of how powerful players are turning to increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques to game the redistricting process, with voters ultimately losing.

For special interests, there’s a huge potential payoff from investing in such efforts.

“Reshaping a map is very powerful” for donors, said Spencer Kimball, a political consultant who is executive director of Boston-based Fair Districts Mass. “It’s a big opportunity to have influence at the state level and the congressional level not one race at a time but for 10 years.”

Skillful redistricting can, of course, help create Republican or Democratic districts, but it can also grace incumbents with virtually guaranteed re-election or leave them with nearly no chance at all. In the process, it can also create seats almost certain to be held by minorities or break those same groups apart, ensuring that they have almost no voice.

But it’s not cheap, and that’s where corporations and other outside interests come in. They can provide the cash for voter data, mapping consultants and lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states. Outside interests can also fund the inevitable lawsuits that contest nearly every state’s redistricting plan after it is unveiled.

In Minnesota, for instance, the Republicans’ legal efforts to influence redistricting arebeing financed through a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.

Fair Redistricting describes itself as independent, but it has much of its leadership in common with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group with ties to the political empire of the Koch brothers, industrialists from Kansas who’ve spent millions funding conservative causes. The head of the Freedom Foundation, Annette Meeks, told ProPublica she has “no involvement” with Fair Redistricting. But both organizations’ tax filings list the same address: Meeks’ home address.

Fair Redistricting is registered under the name of her husband, Jack Meeks, who is also on the board of the Freedom Foundation. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Who is actually paying for Fair Redistricting’s lawsuit and lawyers? And what district lines are they pushing for? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:20 pm

Subsidy comparison: Fossil fuels vs. Solar

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The government is offering subsidies for energy—both fossil fuels and solar. But the amounts are quite different:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2011 at 3:10 pm

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