Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Connecticut Democrats kill student privacy bill

Last month, a measure that would have barred schools in Connecticut from sharing student test results with military recruiters easily passed the state Education Committee. Today, that legislation died.

In an email, Rep. Jack Hennessy, a Democrat, told me that “the Veterans’ Affairs Committee met this morning and killed the bill.” Hennessy is the chairman of that committee. He did not say why.

The legislation, which would have stopped schools from sharing with recruiters data collected as part of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) — advertised to high school students as a career aptitude exam — was opposed by the Pentagon, which I suppose is all the explanation we need.
Democrats control 120 out of 187 seats in the state legislature, as well as the governor’s office.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Money for war, but can't feed the poor

Liberals and conservatives are both wrong about taxes, I argue in a piece for VICE which notes that when some people learn the truth about what the IRS does with their money, they never pay their taxes again.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

You say you want a revolution

My latest piece for VICE tells the tale of how one FBI agent infiltrated a left-wing activist group and tried to get a bunch of people thrown behind bars for talking about revolution. Read and share with your lovers and/or loved ones.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stuff I forgot to post here

I wrote three articles since I last updated this blog, so now I am going to link to them with the expectation that you will read them. And you will read them. I have your IP address.

-- I wrote about how the for-profit South by Southwest is breaking the law by relying on unpaid labor. Read it.
-- I wrote about how white immigrants from Germany get special treatment compared to brown Latinos. Read it.
-- I interviewed a guy who thinks we should abolish prison. Read it.
Until next time!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Update!

I’m a few weeks late pointing this out here because, frankly, writing more than 140 characters is passé, but in case you missed it — and why would you? — my last article for VICE (all caps) had to do with a recent government study finding that reports of rape behind bars are on the rise. Go read the piece but, as always, not the comments.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The week in me

– VICE published my latest piece on unpaid labor, concerning the use of armed volunteers by police departments across the United States.

– Salon published my interview with The Nation’s Eric Alterman regarding his opposition to diversity in the debate over Israel-Palestine.

– And finally, Salon published my piece arguing that if California Governor Jerry Brown really cares about “public safety,” he should spend the state’s emergency fund on preparation for the next earthquake, not to transfer non-violent drug offenders to private prisons.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year in review

This year, 2013, wasn't a bad year for me, all told, but it was a weird wooden roller coaster of a 12-month period with highs that were high and lows which are better left for my LiveJournal. In this weirdest of years, I wrote some things, some of which got traction and some of which even I've already forgotten. Among the pieces I remember writing which you should get busy reading, in no particular order:

"Sharing Science is a Crime," Al Jazeera English -- If you discover the cure for cancer while working for a corporation or school, you better keep it a secret.

"Steal This Article," The New Inquiry -- It may not always be practical, but it's almost always moral to take what you need from someone who has plenty (and doesn't deserve it).

"The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media," VICE -- The liberal magazine Mother Jones gave its interns/"fellows" a $500 a month raise after this piece was published, meaning they will now be paid almost the bare minimum legally allowed in San Francisco (almost).

"Libertarians Are Very Confused about Capitalism," Salon -- Libertarians like to point out that America does not enjoy a "free market," but if that's true: why are they always so busy defending America's wealthy?

"US Hedge Funds Paint Argentina as Ally of Iran (& part two)," Inter Press Service -- Wall Street is trying to extract tens of billions of dollars from Argentina and it's using warmongers in Washington to try and get it.

LA considers IDs for inmates

Every year in Los Angeles County, thousands of people are released from jail without any way to prove who they are, which makes it that much harder to find a job and a place to live -- to stay out of jail, in other words. In my latest for VICE, I report on an effort to change that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sorry, those are the rules

Barack Obama may not have pulled the trigger that led 15 members of a wedding party in Yemen to lose their lives — to be murdered by an anonymous killer remotely piloting an American drone — but according to the US president’s own administration, he bears responsibility for their deaths just as much as if he had carried out the killings with his own two hands.

“The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership,” said the US State Department four months ago, “even if command and control – he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, ‘Go,’ on this.”

Since the United States is a country where the rule of law is respected and political leaders are judged by the same standards they impose on others, Obama’s trial for murder should begin any day now, which raises the obvious question: How will this impact the race for the White House in 2016?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The NSA likes 'em young

A week after I named them in my piece for VICE on liberal outlets exploiting their laborers, Salon published my latest piece, on the NSA's use of (paid) interns as young as 15. So, thanks to Salon for being the better left-of-center website. Now pay your interns.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

My only VICE

On Monday, VICE published a piece of mine concerning the liberal media's reliance on unpaid and barely paid labor ("interns"). As I explained later to a writer for Romenesko.com, no traditionally "left" outlet was willing to publish the piece -- only VICE -- which is itself a commentary on the state of progressive media. I'm tempted to send all the outlets that declined or ignored my pitch a link to this.

On Friday, Inter Press Service published my interview with Madiha Tahir, a journalist who spoke to survivors of US drone strikes in Pakistan for her new documentary, Wounds of Waziristan.

I had another piece on interns that was supposed to be published this week by an outlet named in my VICE piece. Maybe next week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Religous students found guilty of being Pakistani

When a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, Barack Obama announced how “deeply saddened” he was that such an attack "took place at a house of worship.” His Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, likewise expressed his disgusted at “a senseless act of violence . . . that should never befall any house of worship.”

At the time, that was grotesquely funny because, by that point, Barack Obama had himself committed numerous acts of senseless violence against houses of worship. And, being the commander-in-chief of a military fighting a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he dramatically expanded upon taking office, he has continued to bomb religious institutions ever since.

A suspected U.S. drone fired on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan's northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early on Thursday, killing at least five people, police said.
#####
Fareed Khan, a police officer, said the unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa in the Hangu district, killing two teachers and three students just before sunrise on Thursday.
Now, and this is important: an anonymous official did say a potentially bad person was potentially seen at that madrassa a few days earlier (potentially), so Barack Obama can sleep soundly at night knowing he authorized the killing of a few people who were probably familiar with that bad guy, even if that bad guy himself is currently back at home alive and well playing Call of Duty: Death to America.

Meanwhile:
The attack took place a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying that the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz's remarks.
I'm really pretty sure that it has.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Help MSNBC bring liberal values to the workplace

Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Al Sharpton are some of the biggest names in televised liberal commentary, but when it comes to supporting the rights of those who work under them at MSNBC, these big names have come up rather small.

According to the Writers Guild of America East, “Producers and associate producers at Peacock Productions, NBC’s nonfiction and reality unit at 30 Rockefeller Center, have been organizing and fighting against unionbusting at NBC for over a year now.” What they want are the benefits of being in a union, such as health insurance, better pay and less outrageous hours.

“These producers and APs [associate producers] have had enough of NBC’s attempts to stop their organizing drive,” says the guild. “They are asking MSNBC hosts to do one simple thing: sit down with them and hear their stories.”

So far, that has not happened. But it is not like MSNB’s on-air talent is unaware of what their producers do to make their shows happen.

“The staff of @allinwithchris works so so hard,” Chris Hayes tweeted yesterday. “It’s a marvel to watch every day.”

Hayes should do more than just tweet about how great his producers are: he should let some of them come on his show to explain the work they do – and why they need the benefits that come with being part of a union.

“The reality of freelance employment in nonfiction TV,” said Writers Guild of America Executive Director Lowell Peterson, “is that even creative professionals face grueling hours, no job security, no benefits, and no certainty about compensation.”

As a former non-fiction television producer who enjoyed neither job security nor benefits, join me and the guild in helping draw the attention of the following hosts at MSNBC to their producers’ organizing drive – and be sure to report what you hear back:

Rachel Maddow, “Rachel Maddow Show,” @maddow

Ed Schultz, “The Ed Show” @wegoted

Tamron Hall, “NewsNation” @tamronhall

Al Sharpton, “PoliticsNation” @thereval

Chris Hayes, “All In with Chris” @chrislhayes

Lawrence O’Donnell, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” @lawrence

Monday, November 11, 2013

US federal prisons overflowing with drug offenders

No country imprisons more of its citizens than the United States, where more than 2 million people are behind bars, or roughly 1 in 100 adults. The majority of those behind bars did not commit acts of violence, but were convicted of non-violent offenses, mostly involving drugs. Indeed, the war on drugs is responsible for quadrupling the U.S. incarceration rate over the last 30 years, which a new report shows has created dangerous levels of overcrowding in federal prisons.

In 1980, federal prisons held under 25,000 people. In 2013, federal prisons are now home to more than 219,000 people.

“This growth is unsustainable,” said Julie Samuels, a co-author of a new report from the Washington, DC-based Urban Institute, a think tank founded by US President Lyndon Johnson. For one, housing that people in state institutions is costly, with the federal prison budget for fiscal year 2014 of a projected $6.9 billion set to eat up more than a quarter of the Department of Justice’s total budget.

“Second, overcrowded federal prisons are dangerous, posing safety risks for staff and prisoners alike,” said Samuels. And US federal prisons are extremely overcrowded.

According to the report, “Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System,” the average federal detention center exceeds its planned capacity by 35 to 40 percent. Overcrowding is even more of a problem in high-security prisons, which as of 2012 were operating at 151 percent of their capacity.

Part of the increase is due to increased law enforcement targeting of immigrant communities. President Barack Obama has ordered more deportations than of his predecessors: 2 million people kicked out of the United States and counting, many of whom were picked up for minor infractions. But, “Though the number of inmates sentenced for immigration crimes has also risen, long drug sentences are the main driver of the population’s unsustainable growth.”

Bipartisan blame

The war on drugs, characterized by long mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, disproportionately people of color, is not the product of any one president or party, but a policy agreed to by both major parties in the United States and prosecuted with enthusiasm by every president in modern history. Today, half of those in federal prisons are there for drug crimes that were once not treated as offenses worthy of prison time.

What changed is in 1984, the US Congress – at the time controlled by liberal Democrats – passed legislation requiring judges to issue long, mandatory minimum sentences to non-violent drug offenders. Called the “Sentencing Reform Act,” the bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican. The signing of that bill and later, bipartisan “tough-on-crime” legislation in the 1986 and 1988 at the height of the media-fueled “crack epidemic,” coincided with a trend of state psychiatric hospitals shutting down and kicking out patients who, in addition to mental health problems, often had serious substance abuse issues. While there were more than 500,000 people in such institutions in 1960, by 2010 that number was closer to 50,000. People who would have been put in a hospital were instead put in a prison.

As the Urban Institute notes, before the massive escalation of the drug war in the 1980s, “a quarter of all federal drug offenders were fined or sentenced to probation, not prison.” Today, “95 percent are sentenced to a term of imprisonment,” with the average time served about twice what it was in 1983.

Slashing sentences

Reducing the federal prison population requires undoing the policies that have put more people behind bars in world history while doing little to affect actual rates of drug use. “The most effective way to reduce overcrowding,” according to the report, “is to lower mandatory minimums for drugs, which, alone, would reduce overcrowding to the lowest it has been in decades.”

Indeed, “Reducing the number of drug offenders is the quickest way to yield an impact on both population and cost,” says the report. “In 10 years, reducing certain drug mandatory minimums by half would save $2.485 billion and reduce prison crowding to 20 percent above capacity.”

There is actually some political support for that. In 2010, Congress passed the “Fair Sentencing Act,” which reduced – but did not eliminate – the disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine offenses compared to powder cocaine. Though crack and powder cocaine are chemically identical, possessing 1 gram of crack used to be treated exactly the same as possessing 100 grams of powder cocaine, whose users are generally more white and affluent than users of crack. The act, passed with the support of all but one member of Congress, cut that disparity to 18 to 1.

The report argues one way to reduce overcrowding in federal prisons is to make that reform retroactive: there are more than 3,000 people behind bars who would not be there had they been sentenced under the 2010 guidelines. Conservatively, releasing them would “lead to savings of $229 million over 10 years,” according to the report. Like other federal inmates, those drug offenders are currently ineligible for parole, another policy the Urban Institute says should change.

“Even with a mix of reforms, federal prisons may continue to be overcrowded,” says the report. “But a smart combination of policies will save taxpayers billions, make prisons less dangerous, and improve the quality and reach of programs designed to keep inmates from offending again.”

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The outlet that was to publish this piece ran out of money mid-week in case you're feeling generous and would like to provide me a form of validation that can be exchanged for goods and services.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

No capitalism? No wealth.

Over at Salon, I argue that libertarians who insist we do not have true "capitalism" today -- and believe that's a bad thing -- should then logically support the radical redistribution of wealth, as money not made on a "free market" is money made in contravention of their own libertarian ethics.

Go ahead and give it a read. It's more fun than it sounds.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

God bless Glenn Beck

You know, it can be really tiring, always arguing and bickering about deportations and drone strikes and all that not-so-good stuff about our continually surveilled lives in 2013. Sometimes we need a diversion from the awful and so today -- and just today -- I express my gratitude to Glenn Beck. I express my gratitude to Glenn Beck because I like to believe he truly thought that he met a man this afternoon who in fact died in 2007. I am also currently entertaining the idea that Glenn Beck did in fact come across Jerry Falwell's reanimated corpse and thought, you know what? The guy looks pretty good for being dead 6 years.

Image 

God, I love Glenn Beck so much right now.

Liberals should stop and frisk Bill de Blasio

Over at The Nation, a debate is raging over whether students at Brown University acted inappropriately when they shouted down New York police chief Ray Kelly, preventing him from delivering an undoubtedly dull lecture about the power and glory of stopping and frisking brown people in New York City with no more probable cause then, “they're brown and shifty eyed.”

Columnist Katha Pollitt is one who thinks the students Went Too Far. Her particularly patronizing entry in the debate, “Campus Leftists, Use Your Words,” begins by creating a false choice between heckling assholes like Ray Kelly and “informational picketing, holding a teach-in or other counter event, [and] campaigning for a speaker's of one's own.” One can do all of those things, actually, while still heckling assholes like Ray Kelly.

But Pollitt's broader point is that “campus leftists” – children – didn't win any converts by appearing to bully a poor police chief. It may have been emotionally satisfying, but radical tactics like those only suggest the left lacks for ideas. So what should have those college hot heads done? Vote Democrat and write letters to the editor and good wholesome stuff like that:
It’s fashionable on the left to mock liberalism as weak tea—and sometimes it is. But you know what is getting rid of stop-and-frisk? Liberalism. A major force in the campaign against stop-and-frisk was the NYCLU, which carries the banner of free speech for all. And Bill de Blasio, who just won the mayoral election by a landslide, has pledged to get rid of the policy and Ray Kelly too. Those victories were not won by a handful of student radicals who stepped in with last-minute theatrics. They were won by people who spent years building a legal case and mobilizing popular support for change.
This is wrong and I don't just say that as a radical leftist who thinks liberalism is weak tea compared to my anarcho-espresso. It is factually wrong. Bill de Blasio, the next mayor of New York City, has not in fact “pledged to get rid of the policy” of stop-and-frisk. What he has pledged to do is rather different. And very liberal.

Under the heading, “Fighting for Meaningful Stop-and-Frisk Reform,” de Blasio's campaign website informs us that he “has pushed for real reforms in stop-and-frisk” and called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg “to immediately end the overuse and abuse of this tactic.” So de Blasio isn't looking to “get rid” of anything but, if we're being cynical – and since we're dealing with politicians we should be – the public anger over stop-and-frisk. His issue is that the tactic is being overused and abused, not that it's being used at all. He also boasts that he backed an initiative "which significantly expanded the number of NYPD officers on the streets." Anyone know what the NYPD's been up to lately?

Like other successful politicians, de Blasio campaigned in such a way that supporters of all stripes could see what they wanted. If you don't like stop-and-frisk, you maybe read his condemnations of its “abuse” as a condemnation of the program as a whole – and he took advantage of that, benefiting from a public sick of Mike Bloomberg the same way Barack Obama took advantage of a public sick of George Bush, his mere election seen as repudiation of what came before. By now, we really ought to know better; we ought to know we should wait for concrete action before celebrating a promise; we ought to know those promises, even as weak as they may be, are made to be broken.

Meanwhile, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay that aren't stuck inside being force-fed can expect partly cloudy skies and highs in the upper 80s over the next week, with a slight chance of rain.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Barack Obama, enemy of equality

According to the president of the United States, "we're all created equal and every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law."

Of course, Barack Obama, like other US politicians, does not actually believe we, the people of Earth, are all created equal. That's clear enough from his exclusion of non-Americans when he describes who "deserves" equal treatment before the law. As a conservative nationalist, Obama believes some nationalities are more entitled to legal protections than others. Born in America, he might deign to give you a trial; born in Pakistan, he won't even bother identifying the remains left in the wake of a Predator drone.

But Obama wasn't talking about state-sanctioned murder. Instead, in a blog  for the Huffington Post, he was condemning the continued, legal discrimination on the part of employers against LGBT employees.

"It's offensive," an Obama staffer presumably wrote. "It's wrong. And it needs to stop because, in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fire-able offense."

This is a great bit of rhetoric that's ready to be slapped on a photo of a happy gay couple and shared 83,000 times on Facebook. It's also incredibly disgingeous.

Barack Obama, right now, without needing to convince any bad mean stupid Republicans in Congress, could sign an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation. He could have done that yesterday. He doesn't need legislation: he could have ended that discrimination instead of blogging, instantly providing greater job security to the tens of thousands of people working right now for the private contractors who effectively provide government services any more.

But he didn't because Obama and the Democratic Party run a neat little scam, whereby they set themselves up as 0.05 percent more progressive than the GOP -- for which they expect accolades and tribute -- and then rely on the public's ignorance of process to explain away why they're not actually doing anything to make things even 0.05 percent better. In this case, John Boehner and his gang of angry white homophobes in the House get blamed for setting back Progress; discrimination against LGBT people continues; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee then sends out a mailer with that happy gay couple meme on it asking if you will please donate to help defeat the forces of darkness.

And then they laugh and they laugh and they laugh.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slate Columnists: Stop Getting Published

Advice columnist Emily Yoffe is not blaming the victims when she suggests that young women getting drunk is why young men sexually assault them. We know this because she says it about 13 times in her piece for Slate, though you could get a different impression from the headline, premise and content of the article:

The problem with the article is not contention that drinking to the point of excess is probably unwise. The problem is the implication that a college woman's decision to get drunk is the chief factor in their being sexually assaulted and Yoffe's assertion that, "a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril."

Like many who style themselves brave tellers of uncomfortable truths, Yoffe is doing nothing of the sort. She's not saying anything that young women have not already heard hundreds of thousands of times by the time they are 21 from everyone with a tongue. Her advice is commonplace -- and about as useful as telling young women not to dress that way.

The reason women are so frequently assaulted on college campuses is not because, like male students, they choose to drink alcohol. They are so frequently assaulted because many college-age men do not respect women. With or without alcohol, women would still be sexually assaulted -- rapes did not stop during Prohibition -- because too many guys do not recognize the autonomy of the differently gendered and, worse still, many "good guys" do not even recognize they are doing it.

Yoffe makes much of the fact that many assaults on campus are "linked" to alcohol, but the real link is something called "patriarchy", or: all that shit I wrote in the preceding paragraph. In the context of a patriarchal culture that already blames women for what men do to them, Yoffe is indeed engaged in tired old victim-blaming when she infers from the alcohol-assault correlation that women getting drunk is the causation. Changing a patriarchal culture is not easy, which is why lazy thinkers instead go on blaming individuals, but changing the culture starts with not doing that; with not dispensing "helpful advice" that really isn't so helpful and really only reinforces the notion that victims of violence were irresponsible and sort of asking for it.

Yoffe makes another error when she writes more generally about the college culture of excessive drinking. In the column, she writes that, "Reducing binge drinking is going to require education, enforcement, and a change in campus social culture," which is both vague and wrong.

There's the word "culture" there, which seems promising, but Yoffe is actually once again blaming victims here. When I was in college, I primarily drank to excess in dorm rooms, parking lots and in the back seat of a friend's mom's minivan. I did that primarily because I was barred from drinking at restaurants and bars and non-fraternity parties. My clandestine and irresponsible drinking was not the product of my own, but of a system that demands tee-totalling from people old enough to go to war and inflicts harsh punishments on those that get caught, such as expulsion and the loss of one's driver's license (meaning, in many areas, one's job and social life).

If you want to reduce binge drinking, you don't lecture young adults on the need to save themselves for their 21st birthday. You let young adults drink, legally, in the same places Slate columnists can, thus taking away the compulsion to binge knowing you can't drink later -- and demanding a little more responsibility than is required when chugging Bacardi on a bunk bed. You don't implicitly blame people for a situation they had imposed on them against their will. But that's just what Yoffe does.