"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Today's Must-Read: Privatize Everything, Redux

Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo examines the charter school movement, taking off from this segment of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight:


John Oliver's Last Week Tonight back-to-school segment on charter schools Sunday was a welcome window into the world of education "reform" grifters. (I just found time to watch it last night.) Griftopia, as Matt Taibbi defined it:
There really are two Americas, one for the grifter class and one for everybody else. In everybody-else land, the world of small businesses and wage-earning employees, the government is something to be avoided, an overwhelming, all-powerful entity whose attentions usually presage some kind of financial setback, if not complete ruin. In the grifter world, however, government is a slavish lapdog that the financial companies that will be the major players in this book use as a tool for making money.

Sullivan details a few of the abuses and scams. I found this particularly interesting:

Aside from the happy talk about experimentation and free-market competition (you may genuflect now), the smokescreen that obscures some of the worst results of lax oversight is the notion that these schools run as non-profits. But nonprofit doesn't mean no cash flow. Oliver points out (and this is not unique) how the president of the Richard Allen charter chain in Ohio contracted oversight of its schools to a nonprofit she founded and who contracted $1 million in management and consulting firms she also founded.

Even in non-profits, someone's making money.

And of course, the real victims here are the kids, who are not getting the education we're paying for.


Today in Disgusting People

Julian Assange.

I've been holding this a couple of days, because the latest news on this front has me totally outraged. CBS News has a good report:

WikiLeaks’ global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.

In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.

Jim Burroway leads off his post on this with the following:

WikiLeaks has always bragged that it was on a mission to expose government secrets in the quest for open government. It’s [sic] own operations and agendas aren’t nearly so transparent, especially with its recent cooperation with Russian hackers to influence the U.S. presidential elections in favor of Donald Trump. Now Wikileaks is releasing private medical and other files affecting ordinary citizens which have nothing to do with government secrecy[.]

Their record is pretty awful:

“We have a harm minimization policy,” the Australian told an audience in Oxford, England in July of 2010. “There are legitimate secrets. Your records with your doctor, that’s a legitimate secret.”

Assange initially leaned on cooperating journalists, who flagged sensitive material to WikiLeaks which then held them back for closer scrutiny. But Assange was impatient with the process, describing it as time-consuming and expensive.

“We can’t sit on material like this for three years with one person to go through the whole lot, line-by-line, to redact,” he told London’s Frontline Club the month after his talk in Oxford. “We have to take the best road that we can.”

Assange’s attitude has hardened since. A brief experiment with automatic redactions was aborted. The journalist-led redactions were abandoned too after Assange’s relationship with the London press corps turned toxic. By 2013 WikiLeaks had written off the redaction efforts as a wrong move.

Withholding any data at all “legitimizes the false propaganda of ‘information is dangerous,’” the group argued on Twitter.

How about "Some information is nobody's damned business"?

Five years in the Ecuadoran embassy in London doesn't seem to have done Assange's mental state any good. It's obvious that his judgment is impaired.

And tonight he's due to be interviewed by Megyn Kelly. I wonder how far the powers that be will let her go -- I'd love to know more about his relationship with the Russians, considering that he's promising an "October Surprise" for our election. (I was looking for a link for that bit, but Google is showing almost all the stories originating on wingnut sites. We'll see.)




Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Culture Break: Qntal: Name der Rose

Qntal is another of those medieval pop groups that were taking the Berlin club scene by storm a few years ago. It's a group on the order of Eurhythmics or Dead Can Dance -- a knock-out singer and a guy -- or in this case, two guys -- who do everything else. This is one of my favorite cuts of theirs, from their 2004 album Qntal III: Tristan und Isolde. It starts off a little slow, but be patient. It's worth it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Privatize Everything!

John Cole highlights this story about the new preferred medium of exchange in prisons -- ramen noodles:

The study paints a bleak picture of the state of food available at the prison. Gibson-Light found that black-market food became more valuable after control over food preparation switched from one private firm to another in the early 2000s.
US justice department announces it will end use of private prisons
Read more

“That change was part of a cost-cutting measure,” Gibson-Light said. “With that change that resulted in a reduction in the quantity of the food the inmates were receiving.”

Inmates at the prison Gibson-Light studied went from receiving three hot meals a day to two hot meals and one cold lunch during the week, and only two meals for the whole day on the weekend.

The phenomenon is described by Gibson-Light as “punitive frugality”. Spending on corrections has not kept pace with the number of inmates in prisons since 1982, the report found.

This is the logical outcome of the privatization trend I discussed a few days ago -- once things like prisons, schools, roads become subject to profit-taking, the profit-takers' first impulse is to cut costs. We all know what that means.

The little food that is available is usually of extremely poor quality. Correctional officers warned Gibson-Light not to eat it, as it might result in food poisoning. One corrections officer recalled that he once examined the food in the kitchen and found a box that contained “nasty looking full chickens” that was boldly marked several times with the words “not for human consumption”.

Cole has a couple of conclusions of his own:

1.) Instead of creating good jobs in cafeterias in prison for both civilians and give the prisoners an opportunity to learn a skill, we’re happier to heap profits on the investor class who have found prisons can be a gold mine with little oversight.

2.) Because most people, when told this, will shrug and basically say “fuck them, they’re prisoners.” These same people will then bitch about repeat offenders who, after being treated like an animal for ten years are released and commit another crime, because we didn’t spend any time or money educating them, dealing with their mental illnesses, teach them a trade, and generally just shit on them for a decade. So now they are worse than what they were when they went in.

There's a connection there with certain political and religious points of view, but I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Today's Must-Read: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

Digby nails it again. Considering the stress on Hillary Clinton's "ill health" coming from the right, this is more than relevant:

Back in the 1990s the political establishment made fun of Hillary Clinton for her comment that the press was missing the real story of "the vast right wing conspiracy" that had been dogging her family throughout her husband's presidency. Any mention of it provoked eye-rolls and knowing smirks among the cognoscenti who were all absolutely sure that it was just more evidence of Clinton's guilty conscience over something.

But she was right. And there was some real reporting on it even at the time although as it was revealed, the Republicans would throw out another shiny object and the press pack would go running in the opposite direction like a herd of gazelles so it was very difficult to get a handle on the whole story.

One of the key players is Larry Klayman, whom you may know as "the dumbest lawyer in America no named Mat Staver" (with full credit to Ed Brayton). Klayman specializes in filing frivolous lawsuits, but to give him his due, he's not after winning -- he's after character assassination and causing major headaches for his targets. Digby goes into some detail on his tactics.

The sad part is, it doesn't matter whether any of it is true or not. Digby cites "Cokie's Law" in another article that's worth a look:

Cokie's Law is "it doesn't matter if it's true or not --- it's out there."

The press, of course, eats it up, because it hasn't been about journalism for a long time -- it's all click bait.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

What's New at Green Man Review

It's Sunday, and you know what that means. I had hoped to have a couple of new music reviews ready, but the heat, the over-cooled working space, and other distractions just wouldn't allow it.

However, there is some music, and a couple more graphic novels -- and of course, a bunch of other reviews on books, music, film, even ale, so dig in.

Relief

The daytime temperatures in Chicago have dropped down to more or less nofmal levels, which is to say upper 70s to low 80s -- at least for the next week or so.

July was the hottest month on record, world-wide.


In 136 years of modern record-keeping, July 2016 was the warmest July according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

Because the seasonal temperature cycle peaks in July, that means July 2016 also was warmer than any other month on record. July 2016 was a statistically small 0.1 degrees Celsius warmer than the previous record Julys in 2015, 2011, and 2009.

“It wasn’t by the widest of margins, but July 2016 was the warmest month since modern record-keeping began in 1880,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record.”

The map above depicts global temperature anomalies for July 2016. It does not represent absolute temperatures; instead it shows how much warmer or cooler the Earth was compared to the baseline average from 1951 to 1980. Note that the strongest reds are as much as 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) above the monthly mean.

Just remember -- climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberals/Obama/the Chinese, or something.

Today in Disgusting People

In this case, a "charity" that has never really been one of my favorite organizations, especially after reports started surfacing of them trying to wangle a free pass on anti-discrimination laws from the Dubyah administration. (At the time, I also happened to have an online friend who was involved in an employment discrimination lawsuit against them.) This organization being the Salvation Army, which embodies all the worst aspects of evangelical Protestantism and seem to have no limit on how low it can sink:

Normally when we hear about people who use drugs being sent to forced labor camps as so-called “addiction treatment,” we think of places like Vietnam, China or the former Soviet Union. Surely nothing like this could happen in America?

But the civil rights of people who use drugs are not protected in this country. They are often unconstitutionally sentenced to religious programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Many others, as Influence columnist Maia Szalavitz has documented, may be incarcerated indefinitely in so-called “tough love” programs.

Another sinister example is the unpaid “work therapy” which constitutes addiction treatment at the Salvation Army’s drug rehabilitation centers, known as the Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC) programs.

The programs are pretty much fit the typical "Christian" therapy programs we've run across in, say, the "ex-gay" movement, but even more exploitive:

What does therapy in ARC consist of? The primary form is “work therapy.” In exchange for three hots and a cot, the Salvation Army’s rehab clients are expected to labor for 40 hours a week, without pay, for the profit of the Salvation Army stores.

“Work is used as a therapy to assist persons in learning how to be of service to GOD and others…” Coombs wrote. “[clients] receive no financial wage or other compensation.”

Sorry, but people who have addictions don't need to learn to be of service to "GOD and others." They need professional counseling to help them overcome their addiction.

The article goes into some detail on what the clients receive for their unpaid labor, which is pretty much nothing of any value. It's indicative that 1) the Salvation Army does not keep records of success rates, and 2) has a completion rate of 17%, which by any standard is pathetic.

And of course, since legally the Salvation Army is a church, we're already subsidizing them, and they're not required to report on much of anything.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is forced labor for the greater glory of the Salvation Army.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Today's Must-Read: Swiftboating Clinton

Digny has a good, thoughtful post on the Trump campaign's efforts (with the willing cooperation of the GOP establishment and the usual suspects in the media) to get the whole "brain damage" mantra out there:

I wrote about the latest smear that Hillary Clinton has brain damage for Salon today

How do we know it's the dog days of August in a presidential election year? Swimmers and swiftboats, that's how. Actually until August of 2004, we used to call swiftboating by other names: whisper campaigns and smear jobs. But after the success of the slick, pre-packaged set of lies about Senator John Kerry's war record this tactic will always be known for the boat that first made Kerry a hero and later destroyed his reputation.

This year, we're treated to an especially ugly form of swiftboating.  The right wing smear machine is working at warp speed to convince the nation that Hillary Clinton has brain damage. That is not hyperbole or some kind of a joke. They are literally claiming that she is hiding a physical and mental disability that renders her unfit for office. And they are, as usual, being helped by members of the mainstream media who are simply unable to resist "reporting" such a juicy tale even knowing that it is absurd. And so it becomes part of the narrative, true or not, that will color the rest of the campaign and Clinton's presidency should she win. 

It's really hard to fathom how much the right hates the Clintons. Probably because, first, they were "outsiders" in the White House; second, because try as hard as they might, they weren't able to bring them down.

The sad thing is, it's going to have an effect. We've seen it work again and again, going all the way back to Willie Horton.

I guess the only appropriate response, if someone should bring this up in your hearing, is "Says who?"



Friday, August 19, 2016

Some Good News

And long overdue, as far as I'm concerned: the feds are easing out of contracting with private prisons. From WaPo:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

The article links to this report, which is worth reading: it details a lack of oversight on the part of the Bureau of Prisons and a lack of attention to procedures (not to mention basic common sense) on the part of contract prisons,

Sadly, the shift doesn't really affect all that many prisons or inmates:

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates. The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those, even the ones that are privately run. Nor does it apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals Service detainees, who are technically in the federal system but not under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The directive is instead limited to the 13 privately run facilities, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates, in the federal Bureau of Prisons system.

I think one of the most damaging things that the conservative movement has inserted into the public perception is the idea that private businesses are, by definition, more efficient and better run that any government agency. Sounds good on its face, except that it's not true. Private companies are slaves to the profit motive, which means they will cut corners and slide past rules in order to increase the bottom line. I've never understood the rationale for inserting an additional layer of administration into what is properly a function of government, particularly if that extra layer is all about making money.

And there are just some things that shouldn't be subject to profit-taking -- like schools, roads and bridges, and, yes, prisons. We already know that school privatization -- in which school districts contract out to private companies to run schools -- is, while not a disaster, not all that great a solution. And there's no reason to think that privatizing prisons is working out any better.

At any rate, one hopes that state prison systems, which house most of our glut of inmates, will get the hint. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Karma's a Bitch

Via Joe.My.God.:


As we are repeatedly instructed, God uses hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and lethal diseases to punish people for sinning. This week the Lord Almighty aimed his Holy Wrath at Louisiana, where among the thousands of people made homeless by flooding is hate group leader Tony Perkins, who reports that he had to escape his destroyed home by canoe.

Perkins is on vacation this month, but today he called into his own radio show to lament the “biblical proportion” disaster that will allegedly force his family to live in a camper for the six months it will take to rebuild his home.

So, can we assume that Perkins will get the message?

Nah.

Maybe they can find a nice double-wide for rent nearby.


The photo was posted to Facebook by Perkins. Via New Civil Rights Movement. There's also this little tidbit:

Perkins, who was on vacation when the flood hit, is currently serving as interim pastor at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. He said the flood damaged the church and has affected 80 percent of its members.

There's a lesson there.