Later On

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Archive for May 11th, 2013

Extremely ominous as it proliferates through the enforcement system

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Natasha Lennard writes in Salon—and I am noticing more and more that I always like what she writes—a warning of sorts:

When NYPD officer Kha Dang took to the stand this week in the landmark federal trial challenging stop-and-frisk practices, he couldn’t have known how revealing his testimony would be. Indeed, based on his comments, it’s striking that that the police department would allow Dang — a so-called stop-and-frisk “all star” for the large numbers of stops he carried out — on the stand at all.

As Ryan Devereaux reported for the Guardian, in the third quarter of 2009 alone “Dang made a total of six arrests out of his 127 stops. He wrote one summons. He found contraband once. He never recovered any weapons and he only stopped people of color, primarily African Americans, 115 times to be exact. He never stopped a white person.” Dang’s record here is stunning enough alone. More telling still is the justifications he recounted to the court for making many of his stops, referring to repeated observation of individuals’ general behavioral patterns, including “furtive movements” — a vague policing phrase regularly stretched beyond the limits of all reasonableness. “We have a general idea of their behavior,” Dang testified.

The weak justification given for the regular harassment of young black men in New York is noteworthy. But waiting and watching for “weird behavior”and certain behavioral patterns is not just a flawed NYPD policy — it’s increasingly the sort of preemptive and prefiguring policing that underpins national security policy too, from how the FBI chooses sting targets to the use of drone strikes to target unidentified individuals displaying “signature” behaviors. From police stops in Brooklyn to drone strikes in Pakistan, the “disposition matrix” applies.

Devereaux’s report on Dang’s testimony reveals the sort of racial and behavioral profiling applied to police stops:

Dang told the court… he would monitor the same individuals going about their lives on a daily basis. If he noticed anything out of the ordinary, what he called “weird behavior,” he might make a stop. When asked what might count as “weird behavior”, Dang said: “Furtive movement would be one of them.” The phrase has come up repeatedly in the course of the trial. Along with high crime area, furtive movement is the justification officers most frequently check off on departmental stop forms known as UF250s. Critics say it a dangerously vague term that allows officers overly broad discretion in conducting stops.

… “Has anyone asked you why you only stopped people of color?” [plaintiff attorney Bruce] Corey asked. Nobody had, Dang replied. Corey asked Dang if his supervisors had raised concerns about the fact that he did not recover any weapons during the period in question, again he said no.

The model of officers making stops here maps neatly onto the mechanisms that go behind CIA drone strikes known as “signature strikes.” Watching and waiting using drone technology, the CIA do not launch signature strikes against identified al-Qaida suspects (just as nearly all NYPD stops are not carried out on identified crime suspects) but rather, as Pro Publica reported, “drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other ‘signatures.’”

Sarah Knuckey, NYU lawyer and special adviser to the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, stressed at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ hearing on lethal drone strikes last Wednesday that the reliance on “vague and expansive” legal concepts and rubric makes some nonsense of claims that strikes are precision driven and “targeted.” In her testimony to Congress, noted here, Knuckey said: . . .

Continue reading. It’s important.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 1:26 pm

Bloody good potted history of swearing

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By all means read this column by Melissa Mohr in Salon. It’s an excerpt from Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing and begins:

The 18th and 19th centuries’ embrace of linguistic delicacy and extreme avoidance of taboo bestowed great power on those words that broached taboo topics directly, freely revealing what middle-class society was trying so desperately to conceal. Under these conditions of repression, obscene words finally came fully into their own. They began to be used in nonliteral ways, and so became not just words that shocked and offended but words with which people could swear.

The definitive expletive of the 18th century was bloody, which is still in frequent use in Britain today, and is so common Down Under that it is known as “the great Australian adjective.” Bloody was not quite an obscenity and not quite an oath, but it was definitely a bad word that shocked and offended the ears of polite society. It is often supposed to be a corruption of the old oaths by our lady or God’s blood (minced form: ’sblood), but this is another urban legend that turns out to be false. Either it derives instead from the adjective bloody as in “covered in blood” or, as the OED proposes, it referred to the habits of aristocratic rabble-rousers at the end of the 17th century, who styled themselves “bloods.” “Bloody drunk,” then, would mean “as drunk as a blood.”

The career of bloody is interesting, because one can clearly see either its perjoration (becoming a worse and worse word) or the rise of civility in action — or perhaps both. In the late 17th century, dramatists had no problem including the word in plays seen by genteel audiences, and printers had no problem spelling it out in their editions of those plays: “She took it bloody ill of him,” is just one example, occurring in the 1693 Maids Last Prayer. Henry Fielding, author of “Tom Jones,” uses it in one of his plays in 1743: “This is a bloody positive old fellow.” And Maria Edgeworth has her hero exclaim of another man, “Sir Philip writes a bloody bad hand,” in 1801’s “Belinda.” If Miss Edgeworth — who wrote novels about young women finding love and good marriages for a largely female readership, as well as morally improving children’s literature (six volumes of “Moral Tales for Young People”) — had her young hero say “bloody,” it can’t have been that bad a word. Miss Edgeworth gets her “bloody” in at almost the last moment it is possible, however. At around this time, the word starts to get more offensive: It begins to be printed as b——y or b—— and falls out of polite use, where it continues through the Victorian era. When George Bernard Shaw wanted to create a scandal, but not too big a scandal, in his 1914 “Pygmalion,” he had Eliza Doolittle exclaim in her newly perfect posh accent, “Walk! Not bloody likely! I am going in a taxi.” The first night’s audience greeted the word with “a few seconds of stunned disbelieving silence and then hysterical laughter for at least a minute and a quarter,” and there were some protests from various decency leagues, but on the whole a scandal never materialized. Bloody became “the catchword of the season” and pygmalion became a popular oath itself, as in “not pygmalion likely.” Had he scripted Eliza to say “Not fucking likely!” (which he very well could have in 1914) there in all likelihood would have been a real scandal, akin to that generated by shift in “Playboy of the Western World.”

This was bloody at the turn of the century — a bad word, but not so bad that it was not in common use, according to Shaw, “by four-fifths of the British nation.” Perhaps because of this somewhat equivocal status, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Who Is Profiting From Charters? The Big Bucks Behind Charter School Secrecy, Financial Scandal and Corruption

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Kristin Rawls reports at AlterNet:

This article is part of a two-part series that looks at mass school closings targeting America’s inner cities and the promise of charter schools as a magic solution to alleged “failing schools.” Part I explained how the charter school movement cynically appropriates civil rights rhetoric, but often leaves the most vulnerable students worse off than before. In Part II, AlterNet looks at a more likely motivation for the “reforms”: Profit.

Studies shows that charter schools don’t typically outperform public schools and they often tend to increase racial and class segregation. So one must wonder, what exactly is motivating these school “reformers”? And why have they pushed for more and more closure — and new charter schools — at such an unprecedented rate in recent years?

Pro-charter supporters will tell you that it’s time for public institutions like our schools to start competing more like for-profit institutions. Test scores and high enrollment, then, define success. Unsuccessful schools, they say, should close just as unsuccessful businesses do. For neoliberal school reformers from today’s Arne Duncan-led Department of Education to scandal-ridden movement leader Michelle Rhee to billionaire Bill Gates, it is taken on faith that market principles are desirable in education.

But since it’s not clear that market principles are benefiting students on a large scale, it seems likely that something else is at stake. And reformers may be more than a little disingenuous in publicly ignoring that other, less high-minded thing: Profit. Critics of charter schools and school closings point out that proponents may not really be motivated by idealism, but by self-gain.

But who precisely is profiting? And how? Untangling answers to these questions is a more daunting task. Compared to public schools, charters schools are an extremely unregulated business. They contract with private companies to provide all kinds of services, from curriculum development to landscaping. Most of the regulations that bind charter schools are implemented at the state level. And unlike public institutions, the finances of charter schools are managed on a school-by-school basis. Because they are not consistently held accountable to the public for how they distribute funds, charter schools are often able to keep their business practices under wraps, and thus avoid too much scrutiny.

For an article of this scope, it’s impossible to describe the profit issue in anything approaching thorough and accurate generalization. Instead, we will look at a couple of decades-old federal incentives for charter investment that may have helped pave the way for the explosion of charter schools today, and provide some examples and snapshots of what is happening on the ground in those major cities where the charter school movement is most influential.

 Hedge Fund Managers and Real Estate Developers

As AlterNet has previously reported, two little-understood policies helped pave the way for the kind of charter growth we are seeing today. One, called the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), began in 2000 at the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration. According to the Treasury Department, the credit combines: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 10:05 am

So far, a success story: Chicago Workers Open New Cooperatively Owned Factory Five Years After Republic Windows Occupation

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Very interesting interview at DemocracyNow! — video at the link, along with transcript:

Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their new unionized, worker-owned and -operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically. In 2008, some of the workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory. The sit-in drew national attention and union workers reached a settlement where they each received $6,000 each. About 65 workers occupied the factory after their jobs came under threat again in 2012. We speak to two worker-owners of the just-opened New Era Windows Cooperative and a labor organizer who helped with their fight.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In labor news, we go now to Chicago. Workers at the New Era Windows Cooperative are celebrating the grand opening of their unionized, 100 percent worker-owned and -operated business. Almost a year to the day after their window factory closed, a group of former workers have launched their own window business without bosses. They successfully raised money to buy the factory collectively and run it democratically.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2008, some of the workers were involved in a famous six-day sit-in after Republic Windows and Doors gave workers just three days’ notice before closing the factory. The sit-in drew national attention. Union workers reached a settlement where they each received $6,000. The Goose Island plant, run by Serious Energy, faced a second occupation in 2012. About 65 workers occupied the factory in an attempt to save their jobs again. This is an excerpt of a documentary produced by the workers’ union, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

ROCIO PEREZ: [translated] They gave us like an hour, more or less. They came and said, “OK, you have your papers. Now go.” That is when we said, “No, we’re not leaving. This is where we’re staying.”

RON BENDER: So we decided—we just said, “Hey, we’re going to stay here until, you know, you all give us some better answers than this.”

FACTORY WORKERS: ¡Sí, se puede! ¡Sí, se puede!

CBS NEWS: This is a group ready for a fight.

MARK MEINSTER: We put it to a vote, and workers decided that they will be staying in the plant for the remainder of the weekend.

CBS NEWS: More than 200 of Republic Windows and Doors’ 300 union workers are staging a sit-in of sorts until they get what is legally owed to them. The union says company officials told employees they were closing shop because Bank of America would no longer extend Republic a line of credit. Bank of America wouldn’t confirm that, due to confidentiality concerns. Workers say the fact that Bank of America received $25 billion in the federal bailout makes this even more unacceptable.

ARMANDO ROBLES: I’m going to stay until the end. If they tell me I have to leave, well, they have to arrest me.

REPORTER: You’re prepared to be arrested? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Legislation proposed to guard your smartphone privacy

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Interesting report by Andrea Peterson at ThinkProgress:

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) is having a busy week fighting for stronger consumer protections. First he introduced legislation that would stop companies from using private arbitration to escape facing judgment in courts, and yesterday he introduced H.R. 1913, the Application Privacy, Protection and Security (Apps) Act of 2013, a bill that could fix the gap between the privacy consumers expect from apps on their mobile devices and the experience they actually receive. Rep. Johnson explained the bill during a speech to the State of the Mobile Net conference:

The APPS Act would require that app developers give effective notice about data collection and obtain consent from consumers before collecting personal data.Trust in the mobile marketplace is crucial to its continued growth. Transparency is the cornerstone of this trust.

The APPS act would also require that developers securely maintain personal data. And it would give consumers a clear way to permanently delete their personal data once they stop using an app.

Smartphones are a regular feature of modern life, with 114 million Americans using them as of July 2012, but developers for mobile apps have struggled to keep pace with consumer privacy expectations. A February Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report showed that 57 percent of all app users “have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons” and less than one in three “feel they are in control of their personal information on their mobile devices.”

And there is an awful lot of personal information on mobile devices that many apps can access — including contact lists, browsing habits, and geographic location. One 2012 study discovered 19 percent of Apple iOS 5 apps accessed address books without user knowledge or consent and 41 percent tracked location. It also found more than 40 percent of them didn’t encrypt user data once it was collected, potentially leaving it vulnerable to hackers.

A number of consumer advocates have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:53 am

A sensible step toward fighting global warming

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But the US is seized by irrationality, so I doubt the step will be taken. Adam James and Lexy Atmore report in ThinkProgress:

During the last four years, Congressional action on climate change has been minimal, at best. After the Senate thwarted the cornerstone of the climate change plan, a cap-and-trade bill, a horde of climate-deniers won seats in the 2010 Congressional elections. The government continues to subsidize fossil fuels for an amount larger than the GDP of one-fifth of the world’s countries.

Despite the disappointments of the last term, there are congressional members still willing to fight climate change. One of these members, Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) is continuing this battle by introducing the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction (SUPER) Act of 2013.

The SUPER Act reinvigorates the conversation about climate change by addressing “short-lived climate pollutants,” a potent group of gases referred to as SLCPs or “super pollutants.” While carbon dioxide (CO2) is the best-known greenhouse gas, it is certainly not the only one. On the contrary, nearly half of global warming is caused by super pollutants such as methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon.

Super pollutants are far more potent than CO2, with between 25 and 4000 times more global warming potential over a 100-year period. Furthermore, these pollutants remain in the atmosphere for no more than 15 years. Some gases such as black carbon and tropospheric ozone last less than two weeks. CO2 has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. Quick action to reduce super pollutant emissions can have major short-term benefits, slowing down warming by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The SUPER Act would take immediate action by streamlining the enforcement of existing federal policies for reducing super pollutants and supporting similar policies, such as California’sextremely successful diesel truck regulations and recent attack on hydrofluorocarbons, at the state and local level.

While the scientific imperative to reduce super pollutant emissions is clear, the optimal policy for doing so is not. That’s why the SUPER Act would also create a task force to drive the policy discussion behind the SUPER Act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:46 am

Finding the right balance in helping children

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Interesting column by  Eli J. Finkel and Gráinne M. Fitzsimons:

American parents are more involved in our children’s lives than ever: we schedule play dates, assist with homework and even choose college courses.

We know that all of this assistance has costs — depleted bank balances, constricted social lives — but we endure them happily, believing we are doing what is best for our children.

What if, however, the costs included harming our children?

That unsettling possibility is suggested by a paper published in February in the American Sociological Review. The study, led by the sociologist Laura T. Hamilton of the University of California, Merced, finds that the more money parents spend on their child’s college education, the worse grades the child earns.

separate study, published the same month in the Journal of Child and Family Studies and led by the psychologist Holly H. Shiffrin at the University of Mary Washington, finds that the more parents are involved in schoolwork and selection of college majors — that is, the more helicopter parenting they do — the less satisfied college students feel with their lives.

Why would parents help produce these negative outcomes? It seems that certain forms of help can dilute recipients’ sense of accountability for their own success. The college student might think: If Mom and Dad are always around to solve my problems, why spend three straight nights in the library during finals rather than hanging out with my friends?

And there is no reason to believe that parents and children have cornered the market on these dynamics. Indeed, “helicopter helping” should yield similar consequences in virtually any relationship — with spouses, friends, co-workers — in which one person can help another.

We tested this idea in a 2011 experiment, published in the journal Psychological Science, in which we randomly assigned American women who cared a lot about their health and fitness to think about how their spouse was helpful, either with their health and fitness goals or for their career goals. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:40 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Don’t Shoot — Organize!

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Bill Moyers and Michael Winship:

We were struck this week by one response to our broadcast last week on gun violence and the Newtown school killings. A visitor to the website wrote, “It is interesting to me that Bill Moyers, who every week describes the massive levels of corruption in our government… [and] the advocates for gun control don’t understand that we who own guns in part own them to be sure that when our government becomes so corrupt we have guns to do something about it.”

About the same time that man’s post showed up on the web, we saw the startling survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Three out of ten! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats.

That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that facts about the Newtown shootings “are being hidden,” and an additional 11 percent “are unsure.” As Sahil Kapur wrote at Talking Points Memo:

“The eye-opening findings serve as a reminder that Americans’ deeply held beliefs about gun rights have a tendency to cross over into outright conspiracy theories about a nefarious government seeking to trample their constitutional rights — paranoia that pro-gun groups like the National Rifle Association have at times helped stoke.”

Paranoia and just plain meanness. On May 8, Christina Wilkie reported in The Huffington Post that Connecticut Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group, had issued a press release detailing the arrest record and financial difficulties of Neil Heslin, father of one of the children murdered at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. Connecticut Carry accused him of “profiting off of the tragedy.” Their release read, in part, “Mr. Heslin has found the employment he has needed for so long lobbying against the rights of the citizens of Connecticut and the rest of the country,” and the group implied that Heslin had received payment from Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which adamantly denies anything of the sort. Similar smears have been attempted against other Newtown parents.

This hate in our country — egged on by fervid ideologues and profiteering fearmongers — is palpable, stirred by years of irresponsible invective against public officials and agencies. Gun sales are going through the roof. In a sense, so much anger and so much disillusionment are understandable in a country where the gap between rich and poor is so vast that an environment is created in which brooding resentment is easily hatched. Sure, there is corruption in government and business — crony capitalism is the offspring of it — and when the public sees plutocrats who regard politicians as the hired help, and Washington as the feeding trough, it’s natural to fear that we are becoming vassals; subjects rather than citizens.

But a violent uprising . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:28 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Guns

Hidden Power Grab Stops Communities From Deciding Their Own Futures

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Our government is being revised to make corporate control easier: the problem with trying to control local communities, each with their own local government and local concerns and issues is that there are too many of those. OTOH, there are only 50 states, so if local government can be undercut so that the state government controls the state, then corporations have a much smaller group to control in order to control the entire state—and you certainly see plenty of lobbyists and plenty of “donations” going on at statehouses around the country.

David Morris reports at On the Commons:

In his 1996 State of the Union Address Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared, “the era of big government is over.” And during his tenure he did everything he could to make that true—deregulating the telecommunications and the financial industries; enacting a free trade agreement severely restricting the authority of the federal government to protect domestic jobs and businesses; and abandoning the 75-year old federal commitment to the poor.

Seventeen years later I fully expect a Republican Governor or two to declare in their state of the state address, “the era of small government is over”. Because again and again, Republican governors and legislatures are preempting and abolishing the authority of communities to protect the health and welfare of their communities.

*Earlier this year Wisconsin passed a law eliminating the authority of cities villages and counties to require public employees to live inside city limits, which also voids any existing requirements.

*A few weeks ago Kansas passed a law prohibiting cities, counties, and local government units from requiring private firms contracting with these governments to provide higher compensation than the state minimum wages or require other benefits and leave policies.

*The Florida House recently voted to preempt local governments from enacting “living wage” laws and “sick time” ordinances. If signed into law, the bill also overrules counties like Miami-Dade and Broward that have “living wage” ordinances that require companies that contract with the county to pay wages higher than the federal minimum wage, and sometimes provide certain benefits.

According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 19 states severely restrict or outright abolish the right of local governments to build their telecommunications networks. Cities began building their own networks after years of begging private phone and cable companies to upgrade their inadequate infrastructure, moderate their continual price increases and improve their customer service. When cities proved to be serious and successful competitors, telecommunications firm, rather than responding to the competition, went to state legislatures to abolish it. Last year North Carolina became the latest state to join the ranks of those who refuse to allow communities to make their own decisions about their own affairs.

Freedom for Unrestricted Fracking

Several years ago the federal government abdicated responsibility for regulating fracking. The Safe Drinking Water Act mandates federal regulation of underground injection activities in order to protect groundwater sources. But in 2005 Congress amended the definition of “underground injection” to specifically exclude “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.”

In November 2010 Pittsburgh became the first city in the nation to ban fracking within city limits.

In February 2012 the Pennsylvania legislature responded by passing Act 13, a law that allows fracking in all parts of the city, including residential neighborhoods, which in essence abrogates the right of cities to exercise traditional zoning powers to protect residential neighborhoods from noise and odors and industrial dangers.

In mid-2012 Longmont, a suburb of Denver strengthened its oil and gas regulations. The Colorado Attorney General filed a complaint in court. In response activists successfully got the question put on the ballot. In November 2012 Longmont voters approved the measure with almost 60 percent of the vote. The Attorney General sued. And Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper announced the state would sue any and every city or county that followed the lead of Longmont.

In each of these cases one could argue about the legislation these communities want to enact. In hundreds of communities over the past decade such arguments have taken place, vigorous debates about the appropriateness of residency requirements, or living wage ordinances or fracking restrictions. Communities have gone both ways on these issues. But I would argue that they should have the right to make the decision for themselves. For it is at the local level where those who feel the impact of the decision have the biggest opportunity to be involved with making the decision. Certainly when it is a question of how to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 9:18 am

America’s Worst Prison: The Inspirational Campaign to Close Tamms Supermax

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Laurie Jo Reynolds and Stephen F. Eisenman report at CreativeTimeReports.org:

In 1998, Illinois opened a prison without a yard, cafeteria, classrooms or chapel. Tamms Supermax was designed for just one purpose: sensory deprivation. No phone calls, communal activities or contact visits were allowed. Men could only leave their cells to shower or exercise alone in a concrete pen. Food was pushed through a slot in the door. The consequences of isolation were predictable: many men fell into severe depression, experienced hallucinations, compulsively cut their bodies or attempted suicide.

The first men at Tamms were transferred there from other prisons around the state for a one-year shock treatment intended to break down disruptive prisoners and make them more compliant. But the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) left them there indefinitely. A decade later, more than a third of the men at Tamms had been there since it opened, and for no apparent reason.

Research has shown that supermax prisons don’t reduce prison violence or rehabilitate prisoners. On the contrary, isolation induces or exacerbates mental illness, creates stress and tension, worsens behavior and undermines the ability of people to function once they get out.

Despite its uselessness as a form of correction, Tamms had many strong supporters: the powerful union to which the prison guards belonged, the nearby towns that welcomed the well-paid jobs, and state officials who thrived on tough-on-crime politics. They all deployed a single phrase meant to paralyze any possible dissenters: the worst of the worst. This slogan was applied to the men at Tamms to suggest they deserved the worst possible treatment—long-term solitary confinement that human rights monitors uniformly describe as cruel, inhuman and degrading, if not outright torture. Challenging this label and this punishment became the project of Tamms Year Ten, a campaign launched in 2008, a decade after the supermax opened.

Punching Above Our Weight

Two years earlier, a group of Chicago artists, poets and musicians formed the Tamms Poetry Committee. Two of them, Laurie Jo Reynolds included, had been members of a group that had protested plans to construct the supermax. Following the practice of two women who sent holiday cards to the prison, we sent letters and poems to every man at Tamms to provide them with some social contact. Their replies demonstrated the necessity of this project: “Hi Committee, is this for real? I can’t believe someone cares enough to send a pick-me-up to the worst-of-the-worst. Well, if nobody else has said it, I will: THANK YOU.” But we quickly found ourselves deluged with pleas for help: “Hey, this poetry is great, but could you please tell the governor what they’re doing to us down here?

By 2008, we had connected with men on the outside who had spent years in Tamms and family members of current prisoners. Together, we launched the Tamms Year Ten campaign. Our goal was to educate the public about Tamms and hold the IDOC, legislators and then-Governor Blagojevich accountable for the use of long-term isolation. Prison reform is hard enough, but getting people to stand up for “the worst of the worst” was considered hopeless. Attorneys and veteran prisoner advocates warned that this campaign could endanger the men and increase support for the prison. But we believed that recent controversy over solitary confinement and torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib opened a new space for debate. And in any case, after a decade of isolation with no end in sight, the men in Tamms didn’t have much to lose.

Outrage Properly Directed

It was hard to know where to begin. Not many people had even heard of Tamms, located at the southern tip of Illinois, 360 miles from Chicago. Our members consulted with legislators from all over the state and sought advice from every quarter. A turning point was . . .

Continue reading.

Given the description of the prison, what conclusions would you draw about a nation that not only allows it but seems to approve of it? This prison seems evil and totalitarian—beyond inhumane. Do you think that the prisoners, once released, are prepared to find constructive roles in society?

For a social animal—such as humans—solitary confinement is torture.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 8:53 am

Posted in Law, Mental Health

One reason the FDA is ineffectual

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Sy Mukherjee at ThinkProgress:

On Thursday, Wrigley announced that it would be pulling its controversial new “Alert Energy” gum — each stick of which contains as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee — from the market out of “respect” for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the agencyinvestigates the public health risks associated with pumping caffeine into everyday foods and drink. With energy products and other potentially harmful foods high in sugar, salt, and fat increasingly under public scrutiny, it’s worth asking: why can’t the FDA do more to crack down on these additives? And why does it take so long to get food makers to comply with regulations when they do?

Answering that requires a brief foray into the history of the American food safety regimen. 1958 was a seminal year for food oversight, seeing the passage of the Food Additives Amendment to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the creation of the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) List. Under the Food Additives Amendment, “any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive and is subject to pre-market approval by FDA unless the use of the substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).” So if a substance is on the GRAS exemption list, then food makers can use it to their heart’s content without proving its safety, unless specifically prevented from doing so by an FDA regulation.

The GRAS list contains over 700 items, many which have been there since 1958 — and taking an item off the GRAS list once it’s on is difficult. GRAS items are specifically defined as substances that are “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of [their] intended use.” Consequently, revoking a substance’s GRAS designation requires considerable expert consensus that an item is not safe for its intended use.

One might ask how salts, sugars, trans fats, and caffeine don’t fit that bill considering widespread evidence that those substances increase the risk of heart diseasestrokeobesityhypertension, and diabetes, thereby harming public wellness and increasing U.S. health care costs. In fact, government watchdogs and medical groups such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have issued several calls for the FDA to crack down on those very ingredients.

But an outright ban on any of those substances (other than trans fats) is impossible — and undesirable — since the majority of food items require them in at least some amount. Rather, it’s excess consumption that makes the substances potentially dangerous. That’s where the FDA can step in by issuing regulatory rules that either set targets or impose reductions in harmful food content. But that’s also where they meet their greatest obstacle: the powerful food lobby.

“It’s corporate power,” said Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in an interview with ThinkProgress. “For something like salt, or partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), or sugar, there’s huge industries behind those substances. First there’s the manufacturers themselves, and then there’s the food companies that use their products. All those companies would be discomfited by an FDA ban or regulation, so they can then go to Congress and say, ‘Look at what the FDA is trying to do! It’s killing our business.’” Congress can then put pressure on the FDA by “cutting [its] appropriations or putting a rider in an FDA bill preventing it from imposing certain regulations,” according to Dr. Jacobson.

That sort of arm-twisting tends to work — even when an FDA action is simply advisory and lacks enforcement power. For instance, Dr. Jacobson explained to ThinkProgress that in the 1990s, “[t]he government came up with draft voluntary guidelines for foods marketed to young children. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association said its highest priority was to kill the voluntary guidelines –- and this wasn’t even a regulation, just guidelines!” Congress ended up siding with the grocery manufacturers over the children. “The public health becomes a side issue,” said Dr. Jacobson.

And even when the FDA succeeds in taking regulatory action, it can get held up for years — and even decades — by lawsuits and lobbying campaigns launched by Big Food companies, as well as . . .

Continue reading.

I found it interesting that corporations fight even voluntary guidelines: they want no restrictions whatsoever, but to do as they please. And it’s pretty clear that public health and public safety count for nothing with corporations and Congress (in general).

Of course, the FDA is ineffectual for other reasons—such as falling under control of the industries it is supposed to regulate. Aviva Shen reports at ThinkProgress:

In a fiery decision on Friday, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman denied the Obama administration’s motion to delay an order to immediately allow over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women of all ages. After Korman initially ordered in April that the so-called “morning-after pill” be available to all women and girls without a prescription, the FDA instead decided to lower the age limit to teens 15 and up rather than 17. However, those 15- and 16-year-olds will only have over-the-counter access to one brand of emergency contraception pill, Teva Pharmaceutical’s Plan B One-Step, thanks to what Korman called a “sweetheart arrangement” between the FDA and Teva.

Blasting the Obama administration’s argument as “an insult to the intelligence of women,” Korman attacked the FDA’s decision to lower the age restriction for Plan B rather than comply with his order to allow all women access to any brand of emergency contraception. The judge accused the administration of delaying his ruling so as to give Teva Pharmaceutical sole access to the market of 15- to 17-year olds without a prescription. Generic versions of Plan B, meanwhile, will stay behind the pharmacy counter for this age group.

Korman also noted that Teva will drive up the price of the pill now that it has a monopoly on young women in need:

While this proposal was a boon to Teva, it did little to eliminate the practical obstructions in obtaining emergency contraception to women of child-bearing age whether over or under age 15. On the contrary, Teva will use its privileged marketing status and exclusivity to increase the cost of the drug. The price of Plan B One-Step under the new marketing regime is expected to be $60, significantly more than the one- or two-pill generic version, and could conceivably go higher, if only to accommodate the more expensive packing, age-verification tags, and anti-theft technology that the new marketing arrangement would require.

As Teva profits from the Obama administration’s arbitrary age restriction, the burden on women seeking emergency contraception will only grow larger. Younger teens and undocumented women unable to prove their age with government-issued ID will still not have access, and may not be able to afford the new cost. As Korman points out, the Teva-FDA deal still requires Plan B to be sold over the counter at stores with on-site pharmacies, even though many women do not live near such facilities. The decision also cites a survey of 943 pharmacies in 5 cities, which found that only 4.7 percent stayed open 24 hours. Given the time-sensitive and often urgent need for emergency contraception, limiting the hours and locations where women can buy the drug could have serious consequences.

Moreover, there is no medical reason to limit access to the morning-after pill. Despite the Obama administration’s concern that it could be “dangerous”  to young teens, an enormous body of research has demonstrated emergency contraception is safer than aspirin for women of all ages.

Obama: the continuing disappointment.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 8:44 am

The cover shave

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SOTD 11 May 2013

Sorry for blurry photo.

Today’s shave is to cap a week of slant-razor shaves, and I thought I’d repeat the cover set-up on the book. However, my supply of Castle Forbes, a luxury shaving cream, is gone, so I substituted instead a luxury shaving soap: Creed’s Green Irish Tweed. That also determined the aftershave I’ll use.

The brush is also a substitute for the brush on the cover: that one is a G.B. Kent BK8 and I discovered that I preferred the Kent BK4, which is slightly smaller—but still has the G.B. Kent power to make lather very quicly. Creed’s shaving soap is superb—as it damn well should be—and I quickly got a creamy, fragrant lather.

I put a new Kai blade in my trusty ’40’s Aristocrat—and this is the one shown on the cover—and executed three comfortable passes, leaving me BBS with nary a problem.

A good splash (i.e., several sprays into the palm) of Creed’s Green Irish Tweed EDT, and I’m ready for a big day.

As usual, I had a good amount of lather left in the brush, so before cleaning it out, I gave my bathroom mirror a treat and lathered it well and then, after letting it sit a minute or two, rubbed it off with a dry paper towel. That should fog-proof the mirror for a while.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2013 at 8:32 am

Posted in Shaving

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