Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

The US human rights record domestically: Poor

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Joanna Rothkopf reports in Salon:

The United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has recently concluded its 85th Session during which time it considered seven state reports, including one on the United States.

The report praised many progressive steps the U.S. has taken to ensure equality, including the termination of the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the adoption of the Fair Sentencing Act and the adoption of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

However, the number of issues the report raises is pretty abominable. CERD expressed concern over the following problems:

  1. Lack of a national human rights institution
  2. Persistent racial profiling and illegal surveillance
  3. Prevalence and under-reporting of racist hate speech and hate crimes
  4. Disparate impact of environmental pollution in low income and minority communities
  5. Restrictive voter identification laws leading to unequal right to vote
  6. Criminalization of homelessness when homeless people are disproportionately minorities
  7. Discrimination and segregation in housing
  8. De facto racial segregation in education
  9. Unequal right to health and access to health care
  10. High number of gun-related deaths and “Stand Your Ground” laws, which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities
  11. Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials
  12. Increasingly militarized approach to immigration law enforcement
  13. Violence against women occurs disproportionately more frequently for women from racial/ethnic minorities
  14. Criminal justice system disproportionately arrests, incarcerates and subjects to harsher sentences people from racial/ethnic minorities
  15. Youth from racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately prosecuted as adults, incarcerated in adult prisons, and sentenced to life without parole
  16. Non-citizens are arbitrarily detained in Guantanamo Bay without equal access to the criminal justice system, while at risk of being subjected to torture
  17. Unequal access to legal aid
  18. Lacking rights of indigenous peoples (the report lists numerous different concerns)
  19. Absence of a National Action Plan to combat racial discrimination

In a press conference convened Friday, CERD committee vice chairman Noureddine Amir highlighted the death of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 1:34 pm

Elizabeth Warren finally speaks on Israel/Gaza, sounds like Netanyahu

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A sad sight, reported in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald. From the article:

Warren said Hamas has attacked Israel “indiscriminately,” but with the Iron Dome defense system, the missiles have “not had the terrorist effect Hamas hoped for.” When pressed by another member of the crowd about civilian casualties from Israel’s attacks, Warren said she believes those casualties are the “last thing Israel wants.”

“But when Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets. And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself,” Warren said, drawing applause.

Just to be clear: Hamas may indeed put its rocket launchers next to hospitals and schools, but that does NOT in fact protect their military assets. The hospitals and schools are then termed “human shield”, and Israel believes that it is perfectly acceptable to kill human shields: once the civilians are seen to be shields, they are shelled and bombed to death.

Moreover, Israel seems simply eager to kill Gazans, civilians or not. The shelling of four boys playing alone on a beach, with no military assets around, killed four children. That was an Israeli gunship, and it was not defending Israel, it was attacking children.

I’m disappointed in Sen. Warren. And she seems to have a closed mind regarding alternative approaches. Also from the article:

Warren even rejected a different voter’s suggestion that the U.S. force Israel to at least cease building illegal settlements by withholding further aid: “Noreen Thompsen, of Eastham, proposed that Israel should be prevented from building any more settlements as a condition of future U.S. funding, but Warren said, ‘I think there’s a question of whether we should go that far.’”

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2014 at 9:40 am

The political education of Silicon Valley

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 August 2014 at 9:13 am

Something big is brewing when you read something like this in a NY Times story

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From a report by David Carr in the NY Times.For context, read the story to which this is a parenthesis:

(In one bit of irony in the aftermath of the events on Wednesday, President Obama said, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground.” This from an administration that has aggressively sought to block reporting and in some instances criminalize it.)

And you can see here how Twitter exploded.

And do read the story at that first link. It’s an important account of events that show how we’re headed.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 12:40 pm

The FDA is failing us: Will Obama even mention this?

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Kimberly Kindy writes in the Washingon Post:

The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply.

And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show.

“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.

The FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about additives in recent years, saying certain substances seem to trigger asthmatic attacks, serious bouts of vomiting, intestinal-tract disorders and other health problems.

At a pace far faster than in previous years, companies are adding secret ingredients to everything from energy drinks to granola bars. But the more widespread concern among food-safety advocates and some federal regulators is the quickening trend of companies opting for an expedited certification process to a degree never intended when it was established 17 years ago to, in part, help businesses.

A voluntary certification system has nearly replaced one that relied on a more formal, time-consuming review — where the FDA, rather than companies, made the final determination on what is safe. The result is that consumers have little way of being certain that the food products they buy won’t harm them.

“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor said. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”

In the five decades since Congress gave the FDA responsibility for ensuring the safety of additives in the food supply, . . .

Continue reading.

We all know exactly how well voluntary guidelines work for corporations: they simply do not work. Profit is more important. The reasons corporations like voluntary guidelines instead of laws that exactly match the guidelines, is that if it is a law, they will have to observe the guidelines, something none of them intend to do, so they all object to the law.

The importance of the safety of our food should be obvious to everyone, but obviously it is not.  It’s as if we’re in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

FDA

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 12:00 pm

Very important point regarding privacy: the data belong to you, not to their handlers

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Important article on issues likely to grow more pressing in days ahead.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 5:19 pm

What is happening in Ferguson is breaking open some rotten eggs

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Read this interesting article by Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker. I think it is a hopeful sign that this is all coming to light and is an international spectacle. Perhaps some changes can be made. The article begins:

Two crucial battles broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. The first began with the public airing of sorrow and rage after the death of the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer, on Canfield Court, in the St. Louis suburb, at 2:15 P.M. last Saturday. Then came the local law enforcement’s rejoinder to the early round of protests. Officers rolled in with a fleet of armored vehicles, sniper rifles, and tear-gas cannisters, reinserting the phrase “the militarization of policing” into the collective conscience. The tactical missteps by the town’s police leadership have been a thing to behold. (They’re also to be expected; anyone doubting as much should pick up Radley Balko’s “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.”)

One moment, we see a young man with a welt from a rubber bullet between his eyes; the next, three officers with big guns are charging at another black man who has his hands up. On Thursday, Jelani Cobb filed a powerful accountfrom the sidewalks and homes of Ferguson. Cobb asks about “the intertwined economic and law-enforcement issues underlying the protests,” including, for instance, the court fees that many people in Ferguson face, which often begin with minor infractions and eventually become “their own, escalating, violations.” “We have people who have warrants because of traffic tickets and are effectively imprisoned in their homes,” Malik Ahmed, the C.E.O. of an organization called Better Family Life, told Cobb. “They can’t go outside because they’ll be arrested. In some cases, people actually have jobs but decide that the threat of arrest makes it not worth trying to commute outside their neighborhood.”

The crisis of criminal justice debt is just one of the many tributaries feeding the river of deep rage in Ferguson. But it’s an important one—both because it’s so ubiquitous and because it’s easily overlooked in the spectacular shadow of tanks and turrets. Earlier this year, I spent six months reporting on the rise of profiteering in American courts, which happens by way of the proliferation of fees and fines for very minor offenses—part of a growing movement toward what’s known as offender-funded justice. Private companies play an aggressive role in collecting these fees in certain states. (Often, this tactic is aimed at the poor with unpaid traffic tickets.) The reports from Ferguson raise questions about how militarization and economic coercion feed a shared anger.

Missouri was one of the first states to allow private probation companies, in the late nineteen-eighties, and it has since followed the national trend of allowing court fees and fines to mount rapidly. Now, across much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.

From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.

America’s militarized police forces now have some highly visible tools at their disposal, some of which have been in the spotlight this week: machine guns, night-vision equipment, military-style vehicles, and a seemingly endless amount of ammo. But the economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. . .

Continue reading. And it’s pretty easy to see more facets of the racist aspects: cf. marijuana arrests—they’ve tripled over the past few years and blacks are arrested grossly disproportionately to whites. Things are very out of whack.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 August 2014 at 5:00 pm

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