Private Prisons Threaten Us All

We have written here before about the dangers of private prisons. Two years ago, Pennsylvania juvenile judges were caught taking bribes to fill up private prisons in that state (See Raygun Style Free Market Justice). In that case, hundreds of innocent kids got the maximum sentence as the prison system paid out millions to the guys who sent them there.

We have also written about how private prisons have failed to provide adequate medical care to inmates, causing deaths in many cases (See More Free Market Justice). Moreover, we have noted that the private prison system has a built in incentive to lobby for harsh laws so that they can add to the bottom line. Now we have evidence that this is indeed what they are doing.

NPR reports that it was an outfit called The American Legislative Exchange Council that drew up the Arizona law that requires immigrants to carry papers. ALEC is sponsored by, among other COPORATIONS, Corrections Corporation of America, the largest operator of private prisons in the country. ALEC apparently drafted the model legislation after a panel discussion in which the private prison community made clear that it sees tremendous future growth in the illegal alien market.

Given the business model, that certainly makes sense. First, the market is “detention” in this case, not necessarily imprisonment, so it’s altogether more informal. Second, immigrants do not have the legal rights, or access to counsel that might trouble the prison system. Third, their families are less accessible, and thus less likely to sue in the event that something ugly happens. All in all, illegal immigrants are great for corporate profits.

I think it is now fairly clear that there is no greater threat to human rights in the United States than the private prison system. In a matter of a few years, they have managed to develop levels of corruption we used to associate only with third world countries. Now they are lobbying against the constitutional rights of free people just to make a buck.

What will we be 50 years from now?

There is a petition drive to make private prisons illegal. Here is the lnk. A Single Voice Project.

Phelps II: Freedom From Religion?

I suspect that the Christofascists who have been telling us about how we enjoy a right to “freedom of religion, not freedom from religion” must be watching Snyder v. Phelps very closely. If there is an absolute right to the expression of “rhetorical hyperbole” is anyone safe from religious fanatics attending your funerals, weddings… camping on your doorstep?

The Phelps Gang and the First Amendment

I don’t believe the First Amendment forgives intentional tort against private citizens, and I think the Supremes are going to come to that very conclusion in the case of Snyder v. Phelps. Good on em I say.

Here are the facts of this case. Matthew Snyder, a U.S. Marine, was killed in action in Iraq. The Westboro Baptist Church has a practice of picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in action because they claim their deaths are God’s retribution for tolerance of gays in the USA. (I believe Phelps, like a number of Evangelical and some Jewish sects, believes a righteous society would kill all its queers.) Snyder’s funeral was held in a Catholic Church in Maryland with full military honors and the Phelps Gang set up a required distance from the front of the church and protested. Mr. Snyder Senior, to avoid seeing the protesters, rerouted the funeral procession to use an alternative church door. None the less, a media circus ensued which was generally recognized to have disrupted the funeral.

The Phelps Gang admitted that it specifically targeted Snyder because it was seeking revenge on Marines because they have physically assaulted the Phelps gang at previous protests. The Phelps gang carried a number of signs. Some of them addressed general themes of “public interest,” such as “God Hates Fags,” and “Priests Rape Boys.” They also carried signs thought to be specifically aimed at the decedent, such as “God Hates You,” and “You’re going to Hell.” Other signs graphically depicted gay male sex.

In addition, after the funeral was thus disrupted, the Phelps Gang published an “Epic Poem” on their website called “The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder.” It stated, in part:

God blessed you, Mr. and Mrs. Snyder, with a resource and his name was Matthew. He was an arrow in your quiver! In thanks to God for the comfort the child could bring you, you had a duty to prepare that child to serve the Lord his God—period! You did just the opposite—you raised him for the devil. . . Albert and Julie ripped that body apart and taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery. They taught him to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity. Every dime they gave the Roman Catholic monster they condemned their souls. They also, in supporting satanic Catholicism, taught Matthew to be an idolater.

The Phelpses proclaimed that God:

“Killed Matthew so that his servants would have an opportunity to preach his words to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the Maryland legislature, and the whorehouse called St. John Catholic Church at Westminster where Matthew fulfilled his calling.”

These words caused Mr. Snyder Senior to barf when he read them, and he ultimately suffered a mental breakdown.
The tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress has four elements: (1) the defendant must have acted intentionally or with reckless disregard to the way his actions affect others; (2) the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous; (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. The Federal District in this case found the Phelps Gang liable for intentional infliction. The Fourth Circuit reversed on First Amendment grounds.

The key here is a line of First Amendment cases that run from NY Times V. Sulllivan, to Jerry Falwell v. Hustler. The NYT case, studied by every journalism student, held that a public figure cannot be libeled even if matters said about him/her were factually incorrect if there was no malicious intent on the part of the newspaper. Hustler said a public figure cannot claim intentional infliction of emotional distress even if things said about him are not true regardless of how outrageous, if they were none-the-less satirical. (Hustler published a fake interview with Falwell in which he confesses having had sex with his mother in the outhouse.) Public figures, the courts have concluded, have inserted themselves into the public debate and should be willing to take more heat than the average citizen. Moreover, public figures have access to the public forum in ways that private citizens do not, and thus are better able to defend themselves.

In Snyder, the Fourth Circuit added an entirely new rule. Reading Hustler the court concluded that The Phelps Gang was absolutely protected by the first amendment and that there is a complete tort immunity for speakers of “rhetorical hyperbole.” Thus, the Fourth Circuit concluded, it is not important whether Snyder is a private citizen, as opposed to a public figure.

The Fourth Circuit analysis completely misconstrues Hustler, and completely misunderstands the basic approach of NYTimes, which balances the constitutional rights of the parties against the public’s interest in robust debate and information transparency. Hustler concludes that the public’s right to make fun of public figures is more important than the public figure’s right to dignity. There is not much doubt that the Hustler case would have had a different result if Jerry Falwell had been a country preacher with no national standing.

There is no rational basis for failing to protect the private citizen standing of the Snyder family from being targeted by fanatical maniacs with dubious claims to having raised issues of important public interest. Nothing about the debate of the rights of gay citizens is advanced significantly by their choice of military funerals as a focus for their protests. More importantly, specific attacks on the Snyder family cannot be said to have in any way advanced the public debate. The Snyders themselves had never inserted themselves into the public arena on this or any subject, Cpl. Snyder was not gay, had not made claims about gay persons or otherwise made claims that would make him a target for this protest.

The Assassination of Dr. Tiller

If you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to see Rachel Maddow’s hour-long look at the murder of Dr. George Tiller in May 2009. There are several aspects to this special that makes it especially worth viewing.

The first part of “The Assassination of Dr. Tiller” that makes it such important viewing is the snippets of testimony from Tiller’s convicted assassin, Scott Roeder.

I think it’s easy to dismiss Roeder as a fringe political element. I also think that’s a wrong thing to do. Because I think more of what the right wing does is fueled by logic similar to Roeder’s than any observer might realize. I don’t think that many of these folks might have the stomach to gun a man down in his own church. But I do think that their seemingly righteous, simplistic call to “save the babies from being murdered” can lead to some monumental leaps of justification for them. I think a good number of right-wing politicos these days feel quite comfortable lying about their own record, lying outright about policy, about doing anything at any cost to win, because Jesus Christ wants them to stop all the horrible baby murdering. I believe that Scott Roeder’s simplistic world view is more pervasive than most of us might understand. And I believe it is driving a good deal of our politics.

I loved hearing Dr. Tiller describe how he came into his abortion practice. Here’s what he said, during an interview in 2000 by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.

Patients in the practice we had asked me if I was going to do abortions like my father did. And I was horrified! Why would these nice people say that he was a scumbag type physician? But the women in my father’s practice for whom he did abortions educated me and taught me that an abortion is a matter of survival for women.

In the beginning, Dr. Tiller took (and, it seems, simultaneously developed) his own best advice: Trust women.

The most outstanding aspect of this program comes about 22 minutes in, when Maddow interviews some of Tiller’s former patients. One woman was 25 weeks pregnant and was told that her child had less than a 3 percent chance of surviving the birth. The second had already painted the nursery but was told that her child would likely be severely disabled. What is clear from these interviews is that such a choice is never made lightly and is certainly something not to be judged until you’ve waddled a quarter-mile in some woman’s Crocs.

The scariest thing, I think, about this event is that it worked.

Dr. Tiller’s Wichita clinic closed, as did two others in that city. Now if you live in that neck of the woods and need such care, you gotta to to KCMO or to Denver. They may not have been able to overturn Roe yet in the courts. But they’re succeeding in pushing us back to pre-Roe days nonetheless.

Student Lones

By the way, the Washington Post article I linked to in the last post contains a incredibly good point made by the former President, an accomplishment of these Democrats that they should by shouting from the rooftops, but that they just aren’t talking about one bit: They reformed student loans.

Clinton reserves time near the end of his speeches to talk about student-loan policy change, an Obama accomplishment he says isn’t getting its due on the campaign trail. Clinton bemoans that the United States has fallen from first to ninth in the world in the percentage of adults with a four-year college degree – because too many students drop out for fear that they can’t repay their loans.

Democrats overhauled student-loan policy to cap monthly repayments at 10 percent of discretionary income – a law Clinton says Republicans want to repeal.

Why in God’s green earth isn’t every Democrat running for anything touting this marvelous accomplishment?

George W. Bush and I Are Very Different People

Former President George W. Bush signaled on Thursday that he sees not reforming Social Security as his greatest failure from the eight years he served in the White House, the Chicago Tribune reports. In 2005, the president unsuccessfully tried to partially privatize Social Security.

So in 2008, having our Social Security money in the stock market would have been a good idea? Really?

Wonder what he thinks his greatest success was?

In terms of accomplishments, my biggest accomplishment is that I kept the country safe amidst a real danger.

Oh, yeah, George, that would be great. IF YOU HAD ACTUALLY DONE THAT.

This weird common wisdom that George W. Bush “kept us safe” has got to stop. He in fact did the exact opposite of that. But because America was collectively shitting its pants in terror, America gave George W. Bush a pass on the fact that he allowed 9/11 to occur; that he ignored Richard Clarke, that he ignored Sandy Berger, that he ignored the PDB, that he spent way the hell much too time in Tejas while these 19 assholes were making aeroplane reservations, and that on September Eleventh, his national security advisor was poised to give a speech about missile defense. George W. Bush did not “keep us safe.” He did the exact opposite of that.

In fact, I was reflecting recently about the Bush legacy. A stunning realization came down on me like a ton o’ bricks.

Even if you go well out of your way to be kind to Bush, there’s still no way around the fact in the following sentence: The presidential administration of George W. Bush was in office during a time when THREE “apocalyptic” events occurred.

Tragedy strikes during every presidency, certainly. President Carter was at the helm when students in Iran took Americans hostage for 444 days. President Reagan had Beirut. President Clinton had Oklahoma City and blow jobs.

But I don’t think you can say that any president in recent memory has presided over events as vividly apocalyptic as were the attacks of Sept. 11, the willful neglect of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, and the tailspin of the 2008 economic crisis.

That, to me, is the true Bush legacy. And that, mis amigos, is what exposes grandly any notion that George W. Bush “kept us safe.” He did no such thing.

(Hell, he couldn’t even keep Harry Whittington safe from his own VP.)

Now, you want to see a President with a shiny pretty legacy, check out that of the aforementioned BJ guy:

If there was any doubt that Clinton remains the Democratic Party’s North Star, it has been erased over the past few weeks as he has packed legions of supporters into basketball arenas, college quads and airport hangars. He is the Democrats’ most in-demand messenger and, unlike Obama, he is summoned everywhere – no matter how hostile the territory.

(Thanks to PB for the link. Yoink!)

Who Has Put This Pubic Hair On My Blog?

Here’s one thing that’s got to be noted, I think, regarding the recent dust-up between Gin Thomas and Anita Hill.

As you will recall, the wife of U.S. Justice and Alleged Porn Freak Clarence Thomas called Anita Hill and asked her this, as quoted in a previous post here at KIAV:

Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas, I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day.

Thing is, this request does what conservatwats are fond of doing: It ignores what actually happened.

Anita Hill didn’t jog up to Capitol Hill in her stilettos screaming WAIT! WAIT! HE’S A PORN FREAK AND A SEXUAL HARASSOR! WAAAAAAAAIT!

Here’s the timeline from the New York Times of yore (Oct. 7, 1991):

The accusations were first reported today by Newsday and National Public Radio. NPR said Professor Hill had first made them to the Judiciary Committee the week of Sept. 10, while members of the panel were questioning Judge Thomas in public hearings.

In an interview broadcast this morning on NPR, Professor Hill said she had initially decided that she would not tell the committee of her accusations but changed her mind as the hearings were about to begin because she felt she had an obligation to tell what she believed to be true. “Here is a person who is in charge of protecting rights of women and other groups in the workplace and he is using his position of power for personal gain for one thing,” she said. “And he did it in a very ugly and intimidating way.”

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement today that when Ms. Hill first contacted the committee, on Sept. 12, she insisted that her name not be used and that Judge Thomas not be told of her allegations. He said this effectively tied the committee’s hands.

Only on Sept. 23, Mr. Biden said, did she agree to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the allegations. The report was finished by Sept. 25, he said, and all committee members were notified of it by the next day. On Sept. 27, the committee deadlocked 7 to 7 on the nomination.

Anita Hill was reluctant to testify. She was on the fence for some time about whether or not to testify. As Time Magazine of yore stated:

It was hard to imagine two more unlikely or reluctant witnesses.

I think that Gin Thomas’ voicemail indicates that Hill testified out of sheer vindictiveness and eager spite. I think her reported reluctance to testify signals otherwise: No way no how would Anita Hill have come forward, I think, if she didn’t think it was important.

Important, how? Remember, Hill was no slouch. Yale Law, class of 1980. D.C. Bar the same year. Assistant secretary in the DOE by 1981. Hill was a smart, motivated woman, a character who strikes me as the type to whom this kind of thing mattered. They’ve nominated WHO to be a United States Justice? That creep?

I think there are other things to assess when debating the credibility of these various players. Remember, there was a book written about Anita Hill, called The Real Anita Hill. Its author, David Brock, has since recanted the entire project and now does work for Media Matters for America. An entire book smearing Anita Hill was so egregious that its own author recanted it and changed his entire ideological bent based on its horribleness.

Then there are a few other externalities. Like the four witnesses who testified on Hill’s behalf at the hearing. Like that Thomas himself fell on the old “high-tech lynching” saw rather than just allowing his denials to stand on their own. And, oh yes, there’s this: Clarence Thomas is a male.

Which do I find more believable, that a male human being is capable of acting like a complete hog, or that an attractive female ivy-leaguer who makes it to a major federal department job by age 24 is delusional enough to make up conversations her boss forced her to have about penis?

Sure, Gin, you’re owed an apology. And I’m Long Dong Silver.

Public Broad Casting

Public broadcasting. This is one of those issues on which mine very own Papa Bonk used to opine and I’d sort of squint at him and go “HUH?”

Because PB has argued for years that federal support for public broadcasting should be yanked. And, as of recently—even though that is the entity that taught me how to read—I’m rather down with him on that.

The problem with public broadcasting is that it ain’t. If you tune in to “All Things Considered,” you hear commercials just the same. And, as much as my conservagoat buddies want to argue that NPR is a great liberal media sanctuary, sorry, but it ain’t. NPR is nearly as corporate as CNN.

Not digging that idea? When’s the last time you heard Workers Independent News on your local NPR affiliate? Never? But I’ll bet you that you can tune in tonight to hear Marketplace. That is not the peoples’ media, friends. Sorry.

So the question is, with all of these Conservadicks seizing upon the opportunity of NPR’s firing of Juan Williams for speaking with his lizard brain, bitching about the nearly nonexistent federal funding of NPR, the question to me is, do me and PB throw in with them and call for an end to federal funding of NPR, even if the reason is absolutely wrong-headed and foolish and spearheaded by the likes of Prudence Palin?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?