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Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

More Mos Def Wardrobe Praise

In Music, Policing on March 21, 2007 at 10:49 am

I found this image over at palmsout and had to post it here. I had commented on Mos and company’s Obama “So Fresh and So Clean,” shirts before. This is apparently what they are rockin now. I’m lovin the concept behind these stage outfits – and the fact that Mos is being so political.

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Brokaw Gets Hardcore

In Culture jamming, Media Criticism, Misc. on March 20, 2007 at 11:42 pm

The following article, posted on the Orlanda Sentinel blog, speaks for itself:

A television station in Mesa, Ariz. may have accidentally found a way to capture the prized 18-35 male demographic….show porn during news shows.

Read on:
From the Associated Press

Viewers of a news show broadcast on a Phoenix-area cable television station received a lot more than news — hard-core pornography started streaming into their living rooms, replacing a health show featuring former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

The incident on KPPX-TV Monday night prompted a flood of calls to local news media outlets and cable provider Cox Communications, including one from Chandler resident Brenda Schodt, who said she was shocked to look up and see graphic sex acts on her television screen.

“Maybe five or 10 minutes into the show there was no volume,” Schodt said. “I thought it was the TV, but when I looked up, there were these images.”

Cox spokeswoman Andrea Katsenes said that the unexpected clips were a “source issue” with the broadcaster.

ION Television, which operates KPPX, called the problem “an act of human sabotage” at its station.

The company, based in West Palm Beach, declined to say if the pornography aired nationwide or only in the Phoenix market.

“We have launched a rigorous investigation, and any implicated employees will face strict disciplinary action and termination,” ION Media Networks spokeswoman Leslie Monreal said in a prepared statement.

Myspace gets more political

In Children and Youth, Election 2008, Netroots, Technology, US Politics on March 20, 2007 at 11:29 pm

Way back last Fall I wrote a post about a feature on Myspace that was allowing users to register to vote.  In that post, I stated that I felt easy access to voter registration was important, but that I’d rather see a site like myspace take steps to inform the public about issues and candidates, or at least provide links to information like this alongside their voter registration programs.  Voter registration in and of itself isn’t enough.

Well, it looks like they either followed my advice (unlikely) or someone over there came up with the same idea, because now they are doing just that.

Tonight I discovered that there is now a page on Myspace called “Impact” which, among other things, features links to Presidential candidate profiles.  I dont know exactly how long this page has existed, but it appears to be a step in the right direction.

Some other features of the page include user videos about various issues such as health or global warming, awards for youth that start their own organizations and initiatives, political news, non-profit job announcements, and the previously mentioned voter registration.

One funny tidbit that I found over at the Guardian Newsblog about the site is that Giuliani’s profile is set to private:

Now, back to Mr Giuliani. Click on his picture and there is just a box that says: “This profile is set to private. This user must add you as a friend to see his/her profile.” That’s it, which rather defeats the purpose of the exercise if he wants people to know more about him. Someone should tell Mr Giuliani and his advisers that his foray into MySpace leaves much to be desired.

Safe Rape: Condoms Go to Jail

In Chicago, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, HIV/SIDA, International Public Health, Misc., US Politics on March 20, 2007 at 11:03 am

Federalism is really something else. A couple weeks ago, South Carolina wanted their prisoners to donate their organs in exchange for time off, and now Illinois wants them to use jimmy hats. A recent story from the Chicago Tribune outlined the pros and cons of a proposed plan to distribute condoms throughout the Illinois state penitentiary system. Despite the harsh rules banning sexual activity – along with any kind of activity for that matter – in prisons, HIV is a growing threat to inmates and will become a larger issue once they are released back into the world. Though there are obvious differences between the two scenarios, distributing condoms in prison looks to hit the same roadblocks as condoms in High Schools.

The first issue is that prevention in prison starts far before a condom enters the equation. The very concept of “safe sex” is dependent upon the partners being consensual and the most readily available allusion to Prison Sex is, of course, rape – a kind of “sex” that won’t ever be safe. There is, it seems, room in the chapel for another couple:

In reality, much of the high-risk homosexual contact in prison involves men who don’t consider themselves gay outside prison, former prisoners and researchers said. About 1 percent of prisoners report having been raped.

According to an in-depth study the CDC published last year on HIV transmission in Georgia prisons, most sex among prisoners was either consensual or what the authors called “exchange sex.” Those inmates said they use sex as a bartering tool to get cigarettes, drugs, food or protection from other inmates.

One striking finding of the Georgia study was that a third of HIV-infected prisoners said they had sex with male prison staffers, and one-fifth had sex with female staffers.

Sex, though not without it’s pleasures behind bars, is used both as currency and weaponry. Just like anything else, it is a useful tool in the contraband economy and politics of prison life. And though we can draw all kinds of pithy remarks about sex and prison economics – Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” (eh?) – we can give protections to these consumers the same way we give them protections on the outside. Just because dude takes it for a carton of Newports doesn’t mean he should get Herpes as well. The introduction of condoms might also introduce a sort of competition and health codes for these business owners. Vendors who chose to use protection can be preferred over those who don’t, thereby eliminating a threat of contamination through the free choice of the market system. This analogy is a little out there, I admit, but the realities of sex in the cells in no less potent. :

The objections to condom distribution seem detached from real life to Keith DeBlasio, who said he contracted HIV after being raped by another inmate at a federal penitentiary in Michigan, where DeBlasio was serving time for embezzlement and fraud. DeBlasio said his attacker probably wouldn’t have agreed to use a condom, but making condoms available could prevent other prisoners from getting the disease.

“I was sentenced to 5 years, and I got a death sentence,” he said.

From a health standpoint, it’s not much different from inoculation against disease. If we are already using medical means to protect inmates from contagious illness, how are government-sponsored condoms a stretch?

But, of course, there are those pesky moral issues. As if gay inmate sex wasn’t enough to make the conservatives grumble in the first place, the idea of combining it with prophylactics is a seething beast-monster:

Some criticisms of the proposals to let prisoners use condoms recall the debate from the 1980s over promotion of condoms as a “safe sex” tool. Many religious groups argued then that condoms would encourage immoral or dangerous sexual behavior, though public health forces effectively won that debate.

Rev. Harold Bailey, former chairman of the Cook County Board of Corrections, said he believes the moral implications of condom use among homosexuals remain paramount.

“Anytime anyone puts two men together, which is against the law of God, then gives them permission to do it with a condom, that’s despicable,” said Bailey, who served as the county’s jail chief until 2004.

“Having that sexual involvement, even with a condom, is not righteous,” Bailey said. “If they’re going to [have sex], they’re going to do it on their own, and not with my permission. … I’m not going to hell for nobody.”

I’m sure the Rapture will spare thee for thou compassion, Reverend. Granted, no one forced you to go to prison, you’re there due to your own mistakes, so why should the state now ensure your homoerotic escapades are “safe”? Being that there’s no shortage of unsavory characters in the joint, the argument to treat them with more humanity than they’ve shown the rest of us doesn’t quite carry water. That being said, the question of condoms “encourag[ing] immoral or dangerous sexual behavior” is a little moot when you drop that soap or really need that Heroin. Chastity might have sway in the context of a horny 14 year-old Freshman, but once you’re in jail, the whole “morals” thing doesn’t really resonate beyond practicality. The fact of the matter is that it’s already happening without permission anyway, though I can see how handing over ribbed Trojans to the guys over in Gen-Pop denotes a kind of compliance.

Violence is also against the rules in jail and we all see how effective it is as a deterrent. They do, though, put offenders into solitary confinement, so why not isolate those with STDs or HIV in their own separate wing? This seems unlikely as our prisons are swelling past capacity by the hour. The only choice the penal establishment has with sex is the length of the consequences. There are many aspects of prison a man will live with for the rest of his life, though STDs and HIV are a couple that could easily spread to his family, girlfriends and other innocent people once he gets out. Which is more moral?

The very idea that the conservative perspective on the use of prophylactics is “moral” and anything else “immoral” is one of those unfortunate consequences of political word fighting, not unlike “Pro Life” or the “Death Tax”. I agree that morals themselves should remain a constant in society, yet moral values are intrinsically subservient to personal choices and as such, swing both ways. Living a just and chaste life and promoting healthy living are both moral goals, but it’s the value one places on them that determine their position on the issues. Just because someone advocates safe sex, it doesn’t mean they encourage sex (as if sex needs encouragement) Considering the appetites of our youth, especially in this age of hyper-sexual content-inundation, it’d be stupid to send ’em out in the rain without an umbrella. In any case, though, there needs to be a balanced incorporation of both sides to create effective policy.

In regards to schools, condoms should be made available, but all efforts should be made to preach the responsibility and consequences that come from coital relations, this goes beyond waiting for marriage and the Bible, by the way. Teenage hormones are a formidable enemy that usually gets their way, this is true. But show those star football players a couple slideshows or have them wait a week for the results of their STD/HIV tests and you might not have to work so hard for abstinence. At the very least, they’ll think twice before taking advantage of some young girl, and maybe the girl will have the sense to play the cock-tease a little longer. The same can be said for prison. You’ll never prevent rape, and there’s little chance that there’d be a condom used during such a horrendous act even if given the option. For the rest of the lonely, desperate souls trading anal intercourse for a week without a beating, it really can’t hurt to have the choice, even if it’s not taken. If it’s cost effective and done responsibly, condoms in prisons can and should be allowed to work, our prison population is far too great to ignore this problem. But the question remains, would convicts chose to use them? Would it make sex any better or worse for a guy doin 15-20? And just out of curiosity, am I alone in wondering what Illinois’ Senator – Mr. Obama – thinks about this?

Some more Sean bell updates…..

In Misc. on March 16, 2007 at 9:45 am

From Allhiphop.com:

As a Queens, New York grand jury prepares to hand down a decision for the five police officers accused of murdering Sean Bell, a coalition of New York City-based grassroots organizations are coming together to demand justice in the aftermath of the fatal shooting.The effort is being spearheaded by Peoples’ Justice, a NYC group comprised of various grassroots organizations who are dedicated to fighting for equal opportunities for all. The organizations are expected to join City Council member Charles Barron and other elected officials as well as representatives of the Bell family and other families of victims of police brutality for a press conference in front of One Police Plaza (behind the Municipal Building at One Centre Street).The event is scheduled to take place at noon the day after the grand jury’s decision in the case, which has sparked protests and criticism of the NYPD. If the day falls on a weekend, the press conference will be at 10 a.m.

Pay Your Debt to Society….With Your Kidney!

In Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Misc., Progressive Politics on March 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

This has to be one of the strangest news stories I’ve read in a while. An article in The Post and Courier from Charleston, S.C., describes new legislation that might give prison inmates time off their sentences for donating organs, bone marrow, or other highly valued human tissue:

The measure approved by the Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee would set up a volunteer organ and tissue donor program in the state Corrections Department to educate inmates about the procedures and the need for donors. The incentive bill on which lawmakers want legal advice would shave up to 180 days off a prison sentence for a donation.

Firstly, if I ever go back to school, I think I’m gonna have to get my PhD in “Penology”. Wonder how much time they take off for sperm donation? At the very least, this poses all kinds of medical and ethical questions. As always, lets turn to our government officials for perspective:

“People are dying. I think it’s imperative that we go all out and see what we can do,” said the bills’ chief sponsor, Sen. Ralph Anderson, D-Greenville. “I would like to see us get enough donors that people are no longer dying.”

Enlightening, Ralph. Despite the decidedly simple language the Senator chose, and all of my quips aside, the issue itself is no less serious:

In South Carolina, 636 people are on a waiting list for organ donations, mostly kidneys. Last year, 291 people received organ transplants – 90 percent of them from dead donors. About 50 people awaiting transplants die each year, Blevins said.

Nationwide, about 6,700 people on organ waiting lists die yearly. More than 95,300 Americans are awaiting an organ transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

7% is a fairly high mortality rate, and given that it took 90% of the states’ donors to die in order to live up to that little heart on their license, it seems difficult to find new ways to close the gap. It takes an extraordinary amount of altruism to volunteer a piece of your body for the good of another, and if anyone has ever gone through major surgery, you’ll understand why. Here is a sample of the immediate aftermath of a 2-3 hour donation surgery (from the University of Maryland Medical Center):

You will wake up in the recovery room feeling groggy and a little uncomfortable. You will have an oxygen mask on and a catheter will be draining urine from your bladder into a collecting bag. It is important for the medical team to make sure your kidney is producing plenty of urine. The catheter usually stays in overnight so that your urine output can be measured.

You will receive nourishment and fluids through your IV until you are able to take liquids by mouth….

When you go home, your activities will be limited. You should not lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first six weeks. You may find that you need frequent naps for the first few weeks.

I guess the thinking here is that since normal people are averse to these kinds of things, why not try a more “captive” audience? Medically speaking, it’s actually not that bad of an idea. There are a battery of tests and screenings – both physical and psychological – one must pass in order to be considered a candidate for donation. And though the Yard obviously shouldn’t be one of them, if the inmate is healthy and ready to lay down on the table, there really aren’t that many reasons to deny a sick patient that much needed organ.

On the other hand, THEY’RE INMATES! Using our ever-growing prison population as an organ farm is an ethical disaster, only compounded by the incentives given in return. It’s not as though officials are forcing them to give up their innards outright, but I’m sure if you’ve spent time in the general population of any major prison, having any kind of time off dangled in front of you can make you do crazy things. And what about the decree of the judge? If this program is ever implemented, oversight about who merits the time off will lead to an array of moral quandaries. What crimes are worth a decreased sentence and why? And plus, where does one draw the line? If we already use them on chain gangs, to make license plates, to donate organs, why not gladiator-style royal rumble entertainment? How about medical testing? A year off to inject you with this green stuff sounds good. There are already enough people coming after your organs in prison, except they’re scalpels are sharpened from toothbrushes and they don’t wash their hands first. The government doesn’t need to add another pair of hands.

Iraq and Immigration Meet in Mass.

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Two festering cancers of America’s policy collided yesterday at a New Bedford, MA manufacturing plant. A small army of Immigrations and Customs Enforcements agents (ICE) executed a massive raid at a Michael Bianco, Inc., netting 327 illegal workers – out of 500 overall – and the company’s management. Though they are now prosecuting the company, our government had also awarded Bianco in the neighborhood of $90-$100 Million in contracts to manufacture quality goods for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; this includes around $8.5 Million and $36.1 Million for backpacks and portage equipment in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Many words came to mind when I first read about this, and it will probably take a few paragraphs to get to them all, so please, bear with me.

There are many victims in this story, but I’d like to start with the innocent ones. The majority of the workers at Bianco were women, and while they were being handcuffed a rounded up with helicopters for working a $7 an hour job, their children were left stranded. From the Boston Globe:

About 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. The state Department of Social Services found at least 35 children whose families were affected, authorities said.

“We’re continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind,” she said. “It’s been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that no children were stranded and that authorities released 60 detainees for humanitarian reasons, most related to child care issues. Spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the agency coordinated with the state officials Monday afternoon, and that those still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care.

“We had an agreement in place,” he said. “We are not aware of anyone who had any children that weren’t being cared for.”

Social service officials said they were working with local authorities and community activists to help families.

Since their parents – all but the 60 the ICE mercifully released – spent the night detained in a nearby Army Base, one wonders just exactly where these children were and what kind of care they were given. It is important to note that most of these children are, by birth, American citizens, and as such, are entitled to care in this country. Despite this, a majority of deportees choose to leave with their children, preferring to keep the family together in uncertain poverty rather than burden the state and tear their lives in two. The former, though, will most likely be difficult if not impossible to accomplish given that these workers are now in custody and caught in the unrelenting tide of bureaucracy on their way out of the country. Just what kinds of rights they are granted during processing – most specifically phone calls to loved ones and legal consel – is also suspect:

At Fort Devens, federal agents began a second round of interviews with detainees, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.

He said the majority will be flown to detention facilities outside of Massachusetts, where they will appear before an immigration court judge for deportation proceedings.

Depending on the judge’s decision, the detainees will either be deported to their home countries or allowed to return to New Bedford, he said.

The length of stay at the detention facilities depends on where the immigrants are from, Mr. Rocha said. Deportation to Mexico is quicker than those to other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, he said.

This effectively puts these estimated 100 children in indefinite limbo for doing absolutely nothing. Give me one Minute Man who says this is justice, this is American values, and I’ll write in George Bush on my next Presidential ballot.

The second tier are the workers themselves. Whatever, your opinions on immigration are, it is important to understand the conditions in which these people work:

Investigators said the workers toiled in dingy conditions and faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

“The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario,” said Insolia’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein.

I’m sure it will, Inga. The pay they received – $7 an hour – and lack of benefits is, unfortunately, not that much different than many low-skilled jobs US citizens are forced into these days. But the simple fact that these people are without rights negates any inkling of fair, honest, and even humane treatment by their employers as they risk imprisonment and deportation for reporting mistreatment. I say again, whatever your thoughts on this issue, the plain fact is that these people risk life and limb to come here and be exploited all so that their children can escape the burdens they endure. We are also led to believe, over and over, that these people come to this country to do the jobs American’s won’t. An excellent Op-Ed piece from a local paper stated that the raid happened “on the same day that the state reported that the city’s unemployment rate was the highest in the commonwealth and just one day after a historic copper company founded by patriot Paul Revere announced it will close its historic plant in New Bedford” When a big time factory can beat it’s competitors while still keeping it’s local work-force in unemployment, it’s a Red-Letter day for American business. With the closing of any plant, fingers start pointing all over the place over who is responsible for the lost jobs. Is it the fault of the immigrant for working the sub-standard wage, or the employer for offering it?

The most unnerving thing, in my opinion, is that all this was done with the full knowledge, if not complicit action of the government. Not just the Department of Defense, who awarded them the contract, but several government agencies turned the other way to continue the flow of cheap goods Bianco dolled out to our troops. From the Op-Ed piece:

As early as February 2002, the Social Security Administration found that there were problems with the paperwork of nearly one in four of Bianco’s 83 employees. Over the next several years, state and city police stops turned up Bianco employees who said they had purchased fraudulent documents.

And report after report, filed over a four-year period, to Social Security found wholesale problems with Bianco Inc.’s work force, including Social Security cards whose numbers matched those of dead people.

And yet, the company was awarded more than $100 million in federal contracts to manufacture gear for U.S. soldiers. To meet the demands of the federal contracts, Bianco quadrupled its work force from 151 in February 2005 to 646. The company even received tens of thousands of dollars from Massachusetts, apparently to train illegal immigrants how to do taxpayer-supported jobs for the U.S. military that should have gone to U.S. citizens.

Most of what we eat, be it livestock or produce, has been given off the back of illegal labor for years, so I guess it was only a matter of time before the government stopped riding shotgun and started actively working to engorge American business with cheap labor. While we were being pummelled with the “debate” on these issues going on throughout the halls of government, while walls and fences were being built to keep these dastardly illegals out of our country and rhetoric flew like electrons from our elected officials, hundreds of workers – just counting Bianco, mind you – were being ignored if not encouraged to keep quiet and meet their quotas. The Senate felt it appropriate to demonize these workers while ignoring the employers that brought them here in the first place; these captains of industry who supplied Mexicans, Brazilians, Guatemalans and Jamaicans – just to name a few – with false identification and denied them any rights whatsoever in order to avoid the labor laws and civil rights that come with a legitimate workforce. But hey, that crap’s expensive and we live in a global economy. However encouraging it is to see Francesco Insolia, Bianco’s owner, and the rest of the company’s management being led away in the same cars as the their victims, it is merely window dressing when compared to monumental task at hand. It will take much more than raids to cure the culture of corruption we have let infect our economy through lax oversight and an unwillingness to face the issues at hand. It will be curious to see if the new Democratic leadership will be able to cut the bullshit and find a solution, be it amnesty or prosecution, to this festering problem. There are many who believe that they would rather wait out this supposed lame-duck administration and deal with the problem on their own terms come ’08 instead of working with Bush to solve it, thereby reinvigorating his languishing term. How many millions of workers will be prosecuted from now until then? What will be the human cost of all of this useless politcal posturing?

The fact that many of our troops are now equipped with the products made by this company is nothing short of poetic irony. At the very least, corners have been cut and rules have been bent in countless ways to keep this war afloat. The complete and total lack of responsible oversight and accountability that has been so well documented in Iraq has finally been revealed to us at home, and one can only wonder how much more of our military is being supported by these illegal and unethical companies. We have been told that we wage this war for the people of Iraq to have a taste of the freedom we take for granted here, that it is our job to cast away the darkness of oppression with the enduring light of liberty. Yet here we are, oppressing our own people with unemployment and foreigners with much worse, supplanting the equipment our troops deserve with that which is cheapest and orphaning scores of children without any consideration to their future, all in the broad daylight of this liberty we take for granted. My mother was born of Polish and Czech immigrants who arrived here at the turn of the century and my father came here from the Philippines in his twenties, which makes immigration a very personal issue for me, and probably why I’ve written more of a manifesto than a post. Most immigrants don’t come here for themselves, they do so for their families and their children, seeking to spread the apparent overflow of prosperity upon those they love. This was the founding principal of our nation, it was the reason why George Washington didn’t want to pay his taxes and why Jose’ worked 3 jobs with no insurance, they both wanted to be citizens of the United States. Should people come here legally? Yes. Regulating this, though, must start within our own borders by prosecuting the companies perpetuating it. The fact remains that there are millions of people who have spent year after year toiling in sheer exploitation that deserve, if not the name, at least some of the rights guaranteed by citizenship. By instead putting them in shackles and tearing apart their families, we relive another notorious and shamefull period of our history. If we cannot enforce our laws equally across tax brackets, guarantee the well being of our citizens and the humane treatment of those who are not, we scar the traditions that built this country. If we can’t fulfill our promises here, how are we supposed to fight and die to fulfill them elsewhere?

“Overactivism” is a Beautiful Phrase

In Consumerism, Economic Justice, Housing, Land rights, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 4:26 pm

“Overactivism” is a beautiful phrase that is being lobbed from the lobbyists towards consumer advocates, fair lending advocates, and economic justice activists becausethe “subprime” or “nonprime” mortgage market.  Subprime loans are made to borrowers with lower than average credit; the loans, largely due to historical barriers to credit, are made disproportianatly to low-income, non-white, and female borrowers.

 

The subprime lending market has made years of irresponsible and predatory mortgage loans to these borrowers and now the cat is out of the bag beyond the activist community — the loans are unsuitable and unaffordable to many borrowers. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that 20%, or one of every five, subprime loan made in recent years will end in foreclosure, a process thta not only causes the homeowner to lose their home, but also causes neighborhood instability in terms of abandonment and gentrification.

 

The “overactivism” they refer to is the push by these advocates and activists to ensure that common sense regulations are in place requiring lenders to simple ensure that loans are suitable and affordable to the borrower through the life of the loan.

Countrywide, the biggest U.S. mortgage lender, originated $468.2 billion in home loans last year, including $40.6 billion in “nonprime” products to the riskiest borrowers. Regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, on Friday issued proposed guidance to encourage tighter standards by lenders facing a sudden surge in delinquencies. Loan quality is falling because borrowers, perhaps ill-informed about how fast and far their payments can rise on a 2-28 loan, sustain a “payment shock” and can no longer meet the obligation, the regulators said.

But Countrywide and industry lobbying groups, including the Mortgage Bankers Association, said the guidance would restrict lending to the portion of the economy that need it most… Half of the hybrid ARMs issued by Countrywide are for purchasing a home, he said. Half of those borrowers refinance into prime loans, showing that customers are improving their credit scores and not “hitting the end of the road,” he said.

“The worst thing would be over-activism,” Sieracki said. “There is a market here that needs to be served.”

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up

In Consumerism, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm

A post I put up a few days ago (Dime Bags of Viagra) described a report by the UN Drug Control Board stating that abuse of prescription drugs is surpassing abuse of illicit/street drugs. I placed some of the onus on multi-national drug corporations and their questionable marketing techniques, and commented on the fact that the NY Times didn’t carry a story on the report. An article in yesterday’s paper makes me feel pretty good:

The chairman of a House committee has asked two medical device companies and three drug makers for documents as part of an investigation into product safety and marketing practices.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson for information on their drug-coated stents to treat clogged heart arteries, citing concerns about the safety and off-label use of the devices.

Off-label use of medical devices and drugs occurs when doctors use the products to treat ailments other than those for which they are approved by regulators.

Mr. Waxman also sought information about allegations of inappropriate marketing by the drug makers Eli Lilly & Company, AstraZeneca and Cephalon.

Despite my argument that our perception of drugs is at the root of out abuse problems, I am very glad to see some level of governmental oversight finally making inroads in these kinds of issues, regardless of the motivation. These are merely letters at this point, and it will be interesting to see the amount of disclosure these companies will be willing to give and the amount of push back from the House if they don’t get the answers they want. In many ways, this may become reflexive on the progress of “ethics reform”, one of the key issues in the Democrat’s 2006 platform. If this is as far as the story goes, or they enact some toothless legislation after an ineffectual investigation, one can assume that Drug money is still alive and well on the Hill. As I wrote before, this is a big issue facing the health and well-being of millions of Americans, hopefully we’ll see some action from our elected officials.

Bush Continues Anti-Regulatory Efforts with Industry Nominee to CPSC

In Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 11:37 am

Just another re-post

In nominating Michael E. Baroody Mar. 1 to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), President Bush demonstrated yet another example since the 2006 elections of his efforts to slow down or roll back government regulation. CPSC is the independent regulatory agency charged with protecting the public against injury and death from a wide range of consumer products.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Baroody currently serves as the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), an industry trade group which often works to ease regulations on manufacturers of consumer products. Baroody has been at NAM since 1990, except for a year when he worked for the Republican National Policy Forum. While at NAM, Baroody built a powerful lobbying and communications arm, which has had a very strong anti-regulatory agenda. He appeared to be next in line to get the top job at NAM until former Michigan governor John Engler was appointed president and CEO…

The Los Angeles Times reports that, for example, Baroody fought against ergonomic standards that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommended in 2000, and he spoke on behalf of NAM when the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted constitutionally when it issued air pollution limits in 2001. Baroody’s nomination goes to the Senate Commerce Committee where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has vowed to scrutinize the nominee…

As we watch our nation’s inability to respond to a range of challenges, whether it’s regarding the quality of our national parks, our veterans’ health care quality, the readiness of the National Guard, Hurricane Katrina, or the regulation of our food supply, Bush continues to nominate people not to govern the country, but to achieve ideological ends and protect corporate interests.

HIV-positive soldiers no longer to be forced from Mexican army

In Civil Liberties, HIV/SIDA, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Policing on March 1, 2007 at 7:33 pm

From Upside Down World:

Mexico’s Supreme Court has reversed a law that allowed the military to force HIV-positive soldiers out of the armed forces. 11 members of the military brought the case to the court after more than 300 HIV-positive soldiers had been fired in the last 13 years, judged ‘‘useless’’ by the military. Five of the members may be reinstated.  Two died before the ruling, but their families could be helped by receiving benefits formerly denied to them by the former law. The decision was approved 8 to 3 on February 27…

Prison Babies

In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform on March 1, 2007 at 7:06 pm

West Virginia is considering whether or not it should join the ranks of States that have programs for incarcerated mothers of infants to be able to care for their babies while in prison.

According to the West Virginia Gazette:

Some newborns could spend the first 18 months of their lives behind bars in West Virginia, under a bill passed by the Senate.

The idea of allowing female inmates to live with their infants in special prison housing is to encourage such a strong bond between mother and child that the mothers clean up their acts to avoid returning to prison.

Still, prison nurseries are rare. West Virginia would become only the sixth state to offer such a service. But as the national female prison population grows at record rates, experts say, other states will soon be looking at similar plans.

States that already have prison nurseries — New York, Ohio, Nebraska, California and Washington — tout reduced recidivism rates among their inmates.

In New York, the recidivism rate among women who raised their babies in prison between 1997 and 2001 was less than half what it was among the general female prison population, according to a study by the New York Department of Correctional Services.

“We really believe in the value of the program,” said spokeswoman Linda Foglia. “You’re going to have better behavior so you can continue to have that relationship with that baby.”

The numbers in Ohio, which started its prison nursery in 2001, have been even more promising, according to Elizabeth Wright, assistant to the warden at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Of the 123 women who have completed the program, only eight have been convicted of subsequent felonies, a recidivism rate of 6.5 percent, compared to 30 percent in the general population.

In West Virginia, the bill before the House of Delegates would allow women to keep their newborns with them in a minimum-security unit at the Lakin Correctional Center for Women near Point Pleasant. Like almost all the other prison nursery programs, only nonviolent offenders serving short sentences would be eligible.

Women could have their newborns with them for up to 18 months. If the mother’s sentence runs longer, the baby would be placed with family or social services.

The women and their children would live in one of three specially designed units already built at Lakin for minimum-security inmates. The units have bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and laundry area, and can be occupied by other prisoners if there aren’t enough pregnant inmates to fill them……

While I do strongly believe in the importance of the bond between mother and child, as well as the life changing effects that the bond can have, I have some questions to raise about this program.

1) Considering the large amount of physical and emotional disease and problems that many prisoners face, what is being done to ensure a safe environment for the babies? Given the track records tht prisons have in these areas, I don’t know that i would trust their discretion in creating baby development-friendly environments.

2) Considering the above mentioned stresses related to prison life, how does the added stress of caring for and raising a child effect the psychology of the mothers?

3) How does the stress of prison life compare to the emotional stress of a child being separated from its mother (both long term and short term) on both the child and mother?

These are just some questions that i came up with off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are many more.  I can definitely see the positive potential for a program like this, but at the same time i don’t know that I trust the U.S. prison system to pull it off in a good way.

Wireless New York and Global Commuincations

In Netroots, New York City, Technology on March 1, 2007 at 6:48 pm

There is a movement out there that is pushing for a long-term plan to improve the broadband infastructure in New York city. Personally, I hope to see this movement taken to the extreme so that we can have complete broadband wireless access citywide. This would be amazing for so many reasons – and it’s not just about me trying to avoid paying Cablevision each month. It’s amazing because it would even further everyone’s ability to communicate and compete on a global level. This includes everyone from corporate employees, to university students, to grassroots activists, to low income individuals who have limited or no access to the internet (aka victims of the digital divide).

Don’t think its possible? Well my wife told me about the internet infastructure in Mauritius Island, and they are doing just that. According to an (outdated) wikipedia posting, she is correct. Maybe I should see if conservapedia has a better posting on the subject. In the meantime, see the following:

A plan by ADB Networks calls for Mauritius to become the first nation to have coast-to-coast wireless internet access. The wireless hot spot currently covers about 60% of the island and is accessible by about 70% of its population. By the end of 2006, antennas should provide access to 90% of the island.

For those interested in joing this movement in NYC, I found an article and event listing over at the Civil Defense blog. Here is some of what he posted:

These local broadband projects are so critical because we have no national broadband strategy. France, Holland, South Korea, and Japan have all blown past the US in connection speeds and prices because they have made broadband construction a national priority and have developed strategies to get the job done.

As a result, decisions about local investment in broadband infrastructure – all of these local muniwireless battles – will determine the way we communicate for the next 100 years. Because we have no national broadband strategy, these decisions are being made at the local level, by mayors and city councils, and that is where we need to act.

So I encourage everyone in New York to attend the first public hearing of the NYC Broadband Advisory Committee on March 30, from 9 AM – 11 AM, in the rotunda of Bronx Borough Hall, 851 Grand Concourse.

Here’s the full announcement…

Broadband Advisory Committee

Co-sponsored by the Office of Adolfo Carrion, the Bronx Borough President and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO), the Broadband Advisory Committee will hold its first public hearing on March 30, from 9 AM – 11 AM, in the rotunda of Bronx Borough Hall, 851 Grand Concourse. Sponsored by Council Member Gale Brewer, Local Law 126 (http://nyccouncil.info/issues/intros_act.cfm?intro=Int%200625%2D2005) created the Broadband Advisory Committee to advise the Mayor and the City Council on how bring affordable broadband to all New York City residents, nonprofit organizations and businesses. The Advisory Committee is comprised of 15 members — 7 Council appointees and 8 Mayoral appointees. At the hearing, the Committee will hear testimony from selected elected officials and policy experts. After that, the general public is invited and encouraged to testify. The Committee would like to hear from the public about the availability and affordability of broadband in their neighborhoods. Additionally, we would like to get input from the public why they use broadband and what they use their high-speed Internet connection for. Does broadband help your children do research on the Internet for their homework? Do you use the Internet to find a job? If you run a small business, how does broadband help your business reach your customers? The hearing in the Bronx will kick-off a series of five public hearings that will be convened in every borough of New York City. Based on these hearings and with the help of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Committee will report their findings and recommendations to the Mayor and City Council.

For about information about Local Law 126, the Committee and its structure, and broadband policy, please contact Jeff Baker (jeffrey.baker@council.nyc.ny.us / 212-788-9193), Counsel to the Committee on Technology in Government.

For information regarding the Committee’s public hearing schedule, event details and how you might get involved in providing community outreach, please contact Ryan Merola (ryan.merola@gmail.com).

If you are a member of the media and would like more information about the Committee and/or the public hearings, please contact Bruce Lai, (bruce.lai@council.nyc.ny.us), Chief of Staff to Council Member Gale A. Brewer.

Dime Bags of Viagra

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Consumerism, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., The War On Drugs on March 1, 2007 at 1:43 pm

It looks as though there has been a paradigm shift in drug use. According to the United Nations Drug Control Board, abuse of prescription drugs will surpass use of street drugs for the first time in history. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette brings it home:

“Prescription drug abuse already has outstripped traditional illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy in parts of Europe, Africa and South Asia, the board said in its annual report for 2006.

In the United States alone, abuse of painkillers, stimulants, tranquilizers and other prescription medications has gone beyond ‘practically all illicit drugs with the exception of cannabis,’ with users increasingly turning to them first, said the group, based in Vienna, Austria.”

For many, many years, we’ve been told that weed is the quintessential “gateway drug”. It has been the pillar of our narcotic education since the 80’s, but it looks like the herb’s gonna have to move over:

“The prescription and heroin addictions are often linked, Dr. Capretto noted, because abuse of OxyContin has led many addicts to heroin for economic reasons. While an 80-milligram OxyContin pill can sell for up to $80 on the street, a stamp bag of heroin has dropped to $10, even as purity levels have reached 90 percent.

‘Someone spending hundreds of dollars a day on OxyContin can buy heroin for one-third, one-fourth that amount now,’ he said. ‘You have suburban kids who never thought they’d stick a needle in their arm shooting up.’

Richard Goldberg, Allegheny County deputy district attorney in charge of the narcotics unit, agreed that OxyContin users are turning to heroin because dealers of both drugs are reacting to market forces of ‘supply and demand’ in a price war.”

It should be no surprise that “good” drugs and “bad” drugs are being dealt by the same people. Chemically speaking, Heroin and Oxy are both Opioids containing essentially the same active ingredients, though prescriptions are derived synthetically instead of from the evil Poppy plant. Prescriptions are far more potent than street drugs as well, so the risk of harm is usually much higher. This kind of frank discussion about drugs, though, has never and probably will never occur in this country, this “drug free” America where I can be locked up for 15 years for a bag of weed but can easily write away for a free sample of pills to enhance my genitals – not that they need enhancing, necessarily, but Pfizer wants me to know that it’s on the table. My father was an Anesthesiologist for decades, doling out the Dolodit and other high powered medications to needy patients, so I am well aware that they’re both needed and helpful. Drug companies – like gun makers – can’t really be held responsible for the misuse of their products. While watching TV the other weekend, though, my Dad was incensed by the countless advertisements for drugs clogging up the nightly news. “People shouldn’t be diagnosing themselves,” he said. And, as he likes to say, he was absolutely right.

It’s not that advertisements like these promote drug abuse, but they do soften the seriousness of drug use. It seems drug companies can no longer make back the hundreds of millions they pump into R&D by simply selling things people need, they have to cater to what they want: Getting to sleep, staying awake, paying attention, the aforementioned genital enhancement and a wide array of sexual assistance are just a few examples of unnecessary medication being pushed on us at every turn. The ambiguous ads are my favorite: “What is Xenoxoprol? Take it and find out!”. Because they don’t actually describe what the hell the thing does, they don’t have list the many ugly side-effects – “Gaseous Oily Discharge” – that you’ll most likely experience. Is this any different from getting your fix from a dude in the alley? No. But it’s more profitable to keep us all thinking that it is. It affords us billions of dollars for a misguided War on Drugs and keeps many English majors in the green by writing copy for Xanax.  These inequalities underline class issues as well.  Crack and cocaine are basically the same substance, but since one is bought by poor minorities and the other by rich socialites, we treat them differently.  Working poor don’t have the money to buy Vicodin, let alone the healthcare to get the prescriptions.  Lets see how often we see Anti-Drug campaigns for designer pills.

Drug abuse and addiction is a serious problem, but it won’t get better through legislation or prosecution. Until we change our perception of drugs that are “good” and “bad” by realligning them to reality, regulation in any form will fail. Interestingly, this story was not picked up by the NY Times or CNN, despite the fact that it affects the lives of millions of Americans. It looks like denial is still our opiate of choice.