Monthly Archives: February, 2012

Adoption in Virginia – What a mess!

Scenarios:
John has been in the system for a long time. He’s troubled and shows it by getting in trouble. No one has been interested in adopting him since he was twelve, and the situation is getting worse as he ages. A lovely dedicated couple who have worked with troubled children for many years decide they’d like to adopt him, but the agency won’t allow it because they don’t want John to be influenced by Jews.

Susie has a disability that requires medical treatments. A few couples thought about adopting her, but they didn’t because of the necessary modifications for her wheelchair and the concern and expense of her health care needs. Gail, a nice widow of 60 and a nurse with the resources and background to offer Susie a good home and stable life, is turned down by the agency because she isn’t married. Or, it could be because Gail is over thirty, or because she’s not a Republican, or because she’s a woman, or because she doesn’t believe in corporal punishment ….

Sam and Mack are well-respected and known assets in their community as well as their church. They’ve been stable partners for 14 years and have a successful landscaping business. After long consideration, they apply to be foster parents for Jake, a homosexual teenage boy in crisis counseling for a suicide attempt. Everything about Sam and Mack checks out, but the caring, understanding home environment and healthy role models are rejected by the agency, preferring to “cure” Jake with prayer treatments and anti-gay conversion therapy. LGBT children make up a significant number of available adoptees.

Nick and Caroline own a convenience store next to their home. Caroline is a teacher. They’re not rich, but they’ve managed a nest egg that will allow them to raise a son and put him through college. Everything looked great until Nick told the agency that he hoped his son would want to serve our country in the Marine Corps, as he did. The adoption is denied on moral grounds.

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A decision made by the State Board of Social Services in December allows state-licensed private adoption and foster care agencies to refuse prospective parents based on sexual orientation, religion, age of the prospective parents, gender, disability, family status or political beliefs.

APV fought that decision tooth and nail, and like a lot of people in Virginia, we can hardly believe it went through. But it did, and to solidify it into law and make it even worse, we have HB189 and SB349, which are due to be signed by Governor McDonnell. Here’s what we’re fighting in Virginia adoption law now:

HB 189 – SUMMARY AS PASSED HOUSE:

Child-placing agency; conscience clause.  Provides that, to the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. In addition, the bill provides that the Commissioner of Social Services shall not deny an application for an initial license or renewal of a license, nor revoke a license, of any private child-placing agency and no state or local government entity shall deny a private child-placing agency any grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency’s objection to performing, assisting, counseling, recommending, consenting to, referring, or participating in a placement that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. The bill provides that the refusal of a private child-placing agency to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in a placement that violates its written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages. This bill is identical to SB349.

Sen. John S. Edwards, a Democrat from southwestern Virginia, said, “This bill treads on thin ice. It confuses the right of a person to hold their own religious views, which is sacred, and imposing those views on someone else.”

His opinion is backed up by the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson and passed by the Virginia legislature of 1786:

“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”

The state’s contractors are not entitled to this protection. They’re not people. It’s not about their freedom of religion because adoption is a public act. Nor, as contractors, should they be granted permission to impose their stated religious beliefs on adoptive children who are covered by the statute. Virginia’s children, if “compelled to support … religious worship, place, or ministry” would be wronged, and “such act will be an infringement of natural right” in the state of Virginia.

Should Virginia’s parentless children have a guardian ad litem to oversee their foster home and adoption applications? What about the suffering experienced by children forced to live in group homes unnecessarily? A child’s needs and rights should be protected from any agency choosing to put into peril available opportunities for a stable home and family life.   

Just as troubling, or more so, is the vague wording about “moral convictions or policies”. In context, we’re not talking about virtue-centered morality for the good of community. This is “rights-centered” morality stressing individual freedom, which can be anything. The way this bill is written, an agency can write down a list of preferences, call it moral conviction and policy, and they’re free and clear to prohibit adoptions based on whatever is on the list.

Examples of unregulated rights-centered morality issues are as common in this country as being anti-war or believing in corporal punishment; as controversial as reproductive rights for women; or as egregious as the applause in recent debates has indicated for allowing people to die because they have no health insurance. Polygamy is a regulated religious practice in the U.S., but arranged marriages are not.

The point is, the law will relegate a critical public responsibility, the placement and future of Virginia’s adoptive children, to contractors with a variety of religious and moral agendas, and who also accept taxpayer dollars to subsidize each child’s care.

Back to the scenarios for one more point:
Because he’s been in trouble, John’s mounting chores in the group home include most of the cleaning and yard work. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time. Because of Susie’s disability, the agency that keeps her gets more money each month for her than the other children. They’re not really eager to lose her to adoption at this time. Jake’s homosexuality is believed to be a stubborn refusal to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, a point of contention that his agency is determined to make an example of. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time.

Who is designated to stand up for our children when agencies fail to act in their interest? The checks and balances have been defunded and cut back to the extent that a handful of dedicated, overworked social workers and CASA volunteers must simply do the best they can with a massive workload.

It doesn’t make good sense to keep adoptable children in the system when healthy loving people are willing and able to care for them, embrace their differences, and provide the home and family life they have to share. The moral or religious preferences of an agency are not important. This is supposed to be about the children, and if the agencies had their hearts in the right place, they would insist upon safe and healthy placement regardless of their list of convictions and policies.

This is bad law being pushed through by moralistic people in power who want to force their agendas on others.

But, back up a minute … what about the very real suffering and damage done to a child who is kept in the system unnecessarily? Well, that potential damage was obvious and looming enough for the authors of this bill to include sweeping immunity for the very contractors that should be prohibited from discriminating for their personal whims in the first place. It states that restrictions on adoption under “…written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages.”

Hopefully, that would be challenged and decided by the courts, and maybe it would result in adoptable children being assigned a guardian ad litem. But, preventively, this legislation can be vetoed by the governor.

I justice, You justice, He/She justice, We justice, You justice, They justice

If the bill is signed, adoptable children in Virginia will pay the high price of being political, religious and moral pawns in a system already looking the other way when it comes to meeting many of their needs.

Please consider their interests and let Governor McDonnell know where you stand before it’s too late. Contact the Governor’s Office at (804) 786-2211, sign a petition here, and contact your representatives to let them know how you feel.
Thanks. 🙂

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The old Lie

DULCE ET DECORUM EST (It is sweet and right.) ~Wilfred Owen

Remembering the Context of War Crimes: The Crime of War Itself is a thoughtful opinion by Camillo “Mac” Bica, in Truthout.

I was particularly struck by his comment about military training: “Despite the moral depravity of their actions, these individuals were not born killers. Rather, they were created to do our bidding, first conscripted or lured into the military with promises of employment, a college education, or US citizenship, then subjected to sophisticated indoctrination techniques of values manipulation, moral desensitization, and psychological conditioning, aimed at destroying and overriding both their humanity and their moral aversion to killing.”

Recently, the media has drawn attention to deviant behavior by some soldiers and spurred conversations that really highlight Bica’s opening:

“One would think that, by now, America would have made the connection between war and atrocity. Or, are we too obsessed with our consumer-driven lifestyles, or too apathetic to even pay attention? Or perhaps we believe the military is a refuge for miscreants and deviants capable of unspeakable acts of cruelty and barbarism.”

A friend of mine, a combat soldier, said about it, “The problem is, the American people don’t know or want to know what really happens to us, our minds, during training.” I think that’s really sad and I hope most soldiers don’t think we feel that way.

The two links below are an account that follows the activities of men in Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. More documents and court records than usual were made available for it because of the public outcry on behalf of these soldiers, many of whom are now dead, or in prison. It poses good questions about our training and our wars in general. It begins with the war in Iraq.

Casualties of War, by Dave Philipps

“He was really good. If I had 10 Eastridges, my job would be a lot easier,” said his platoon sergeant, Michael Cardenaz.”
Part I: The hell of war comes home 

“If they did what they did, fine, they have to answer to the justice system, but these guys like Eastridge who tried so hard and loved the Army . . . they are a casualty of war. Their psyches are casualties of war.”
Part II: Warning signs

DCKennedy

What’s in a name?

Today the Virginia State Senate effectively killed HB1, the so-called personhood bill when they hurriedly called a special calendar to re-refer the bill back to the committee it had passed out of only this morning with a recommendation to pass by for the year. In doing this they bowed to the inevitable and to the political calculus surrounding Governor McDonnell’s bid to be Mitt Romney’s VP. Thousands of Virginians stood up and made their voices heard over the last few weeks and in doing so they made it impossible for the state GOP and the Governor to proceed without doing even more damage to what remained of their national reputation and his chances at national office. Below is APV’s statement on the bill. There are still many more bills lurking in the General Assembly that we will continue to fight, but we and the many other individuals and organizations that fought against HB1 still have something to celebrate. WE DID THIS. And we can do more.

What’s in a name?

For decades our friends on the right have been railing against “activist” judges who interpret the law as they see fit, and yet the GOP controlled House of Delegates and State Senate are in the process of passing some of the most sweeping and open-ended language in recent memory; language, almost guaranteed to end up being parsed and interpreted in unforeseen ways in the courts of the Commonwealth. House Bill 1, the so-called personhood bill, passed the House of Delegates earlier this month by a healthy margin and is now awaiting debate in Committee on the Senate side, but it’s only now starting to get the scrutiny that it deserves and the more people see of it, the more they don’t like it. HB 1 requires that all the laws of the Commonwealth be interpreted to grant fertilized eggs the same rights, privileges, and immunities, as people from the moment of conception on. In doing so it opens a potential Pandora’s Box for confusion and litigation. The bill’s sponsor, anti-choice zealot Delegate Robert Marshall of Prince William, says the bill is only meant to establish a civil cause of action for wrongful death of a fetus stemming from harm to a pregnant woman, but Marshall’s record and his refusal to amend the bill to clarify the many ambiguities the language raises, tends to belie this claim. Instead the bill, which is similar to language introduced and subsequently rejected in other states threatens to outlaw all abortions in the state de facto and make most forms of birth control including the IUD and the Pill illegal if current Supreme Court precedent is ever overturned and it raises serious concerns about the legality of common procedures surrounding in-vitro fertilization. A harsh but not inconceivable reading of the law could be interpreted to require women who miscarry to report the “death” to the local authorities, who, one would assume would have to decide whether or not to investigate if the “death” was spontaneous and of natural causes or was in fact an act of murder. Such silliness we are told would never happen, but the same people who say this are the ones forever warning us of the overreach of government and the chaos caused by radical, “activist” judges bent on making law from the bench. In this case I am rather inclined to take their warnings seriously.
HB1 is a sloppy piece of lawmaking that in a few terse sentences changes the meaning of the legal term person, which appears almost 25,000 times in the Virginia code to include “unborn children” which it defines as existing from the instant of conception. The bill tries to allay some of our many reasonable fears; it acknowledges that Roe and Griswold are the law of the land… for now, and in Sections 6 and 7 it address some other obvious concerns:

§ 6. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properly care for herself or by failing to follow any particular program of prenatal care.
§ 7. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception.

Fair enough, a woman who drinks and smokes during her pregnancy or doesn’t stay on her diet can’t go to jail for murder if the pregnancy ends abruptly… but what about a woman who takes birth control? Remember conception happens outside the womb, the fertilized egg then implants (or not) in the womb. Most hormonal birth control prevents the fertilized egg from sticking to the uterine wall. By preventing this, the woman on birth control is “directly” intervening to prevent a pregnancy from continuing. The same could go for IUDs that create an inhospitable environment for the new “person” in the womb. It’s unclear, to say the least if using many of the most common and safe forms of contraception could be seen as a crime by an overzealous judge. Believe me after Citizen’s United, we Progressives have ample evidence of what damage a runaway court can do, and again don’t tell me prosecutors won’t bring these cases or judges will throw them out. Sure there won’t be many, at first, in the sense that birth control might be illegal and women and their doctors may have to seek contraception outside the law and would thus have to hide their actions, so there may be less murder and more smuggling cases. Who knows. We’re going into uncharted territory. What happens the first time or the fiftieth time that an aggrieved husband claims his estranged wife killed their child with birth control she bought in gasp, Maryland? The party that rails against nuisance lawsuits when they target corporations is all for opening up some of the most intimate decisions a woman or a couple can make to the tender ministration of the Courts. So this is what they mean by small government and tort reform.
And, what about section 7? What happens to all the “people” that routinely get produced as byproducts of fertility treatments? Doctors often implant numerous fertilized eggs, sometimes this results in large numbers of embryos in the womb. Can the mother look forward to a government official being part of any decision she and her family might make about reducing that number? What about freezing embryos, do the fertilized eggs get a legal guardian? Can the couple be charged with child neglect if they fail to pay for the lab work? Is it legal to freeze a person without their consent? What would be the impact on stem cell research? Would a doctor who performs a risky procedure like amniocentesis that results in an unintended abortion be liable for involuntary manslaughter? None of this is addressed in the legislation and to think such cases won’t come up is absurd.
This bill along with the raft of other anti-choice bills that have made this session one of the worst in recent memory for women’s rights is part of an overall plan to make abortion and birth control effectively unavailable for women in Virginia. Similar language has failed in public referendums in Colorado and that liberal bastion Mississippi. If put to a popular vote here, I am confident the people of the Commonwealth would reject it out of hand, but the radicals and partisans in the GA and the Governor’s office would like to push this through by mean force. In doing so they are also opening a gaping breach in the law that judges and lawyers and magistrates across Virginia will be asked to plug piecemeal. It’s time to let them know that that is as bad an idea as conferring personhood on a bundle of undifferentiated cells in the first place. On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Progressive Values I urge the legislators and the Governor to stop and consider the many unforeseen ramifications of this dangerous bill. Please say NO to HB1.

Scott Price APV Public Policy Director

How to kill a regulation without killing it. Reason 9,999 to Occupy Wall Street ~by Jack Johnson

The idea was simple. Create a clear rule, a ‘bright line’, that bans financial institutions from trading publicly protected and subsidized funds. That means Banks, like Bank of America, which is FDIC insured, would not be allowed to reap ridiculous profits (or huge losses) by trading on their funds: funds that are guaranteed by the Federal Reserve, that is, backed by little ole tax payers you and me.

The reason for the rule is equally simple: History. During the bad old days that led up to the Great Depression, no such firewall existed and banks were notoriously over leveraged. According to the Library of Congress, “After the Great Depression, Congress examined the mixing of the “commercial” and “investment” banking industries that occurred in the 1920s. Hearings revealed conflicts of interest and fraud in some banking institutions’ securities activities. A formidable barrier to the mixing of these activities was then set up by the Glass–Steagall Act.” The Glass Steagall act was an attempt to save capitalism from its own excesses. One of the principle things the act did was introduce the separation of the bank types according to their business (commercial and investment banking). It also founded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for insuring bank deposits.

The repeal of provisions of the Glass–Steagall Act by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act in 1999 effectively removed the separation that previously existed between investment banking which issued securities and commercial banks which made money through deposits. The deregulation also removed conflict-of-interest rules that had prevented investment bankers from serving as officers of commercial banks. It was the repeal of these prohibitions that contributed to the 2007-2008 economic meltdown in the U.S. allowing main street depositors’ money to flow into risky investments and exotic financial instruments like Credit Default Swaps (CDS) that confused even some of the top experts in the country. Some of these investments –like Credit Default Swaps– were nothing more than insurance policies written as financial instruments. In other words, bets that a particular investment would or wouldn’t fail, and payouts occurring if they failed; all of this outside the scope of traditional commercial financial or insurance regulation.

On January 21, 2010, President Barack Obama proposed bank regulations similar to some parts of Glass–Steagall in limiting the trading and investment capabilities of commercial (deposit) banks. This proposal was signed into law as the Dodd-Frank Act. The Volcker Rule, named after Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a small, but essential part of the act. It was meant to ban financial institutions that are protected and subsidized by the federal government (FDIC insured) from trading for their own account. That is: Traders shouldn’t speculate for their own personal gain using the money you and I pay in taxes. After the Dodd-Frank Act containing the Volcker Rule was passed, the SEC and banking regulators were required to actually implement Sections 619 and 620 through regulations of the Dodd-Frank Act (containing the Volcker Rule).

Well, the SEC/banking regulators have proposed their regulations for implementing the Volcker Rule and it is being universally panned as a bloated monstrosity, a disaster. According to Jesse Eisinger over at Pro Publica, “bank lobbyists with complicit regulators and legislators took a simple concept [the Volcker Rule] and bloated it into a 530-page monstrosity of hopeless complexity and vagueness. They couldn’t kill the rule. Instead, they are getting Congress and regulators to render it morbidly obese and bedridden. Of course, that’s no accident. The biggest banks, which are in business today only because taxpayers bailed them out, want to protect their valuable franchises.”

Paul Volcker

Now whenever a federal agency proposes a substantive new regulation, by law it is required to seek public comment first. Normally the only parties that respond to agency comment requests are the companies that are affected by the regulations, and their attorneys (i.e. lawyers at the investment banks, in this case). As you might guess, their comments are always critical of regulation. But this time things are different. The Volcker Rule’s implementation was so egregiously awful that our friends at Occupy Wall Street took notice. A small subset of the Occupy folks have rechristened themselves, Occupy The SEC. They have written a 325 page comment to the SEC’s bloated implementation of the “Volcker Rule” that is as smart and sharp as anything you might expect from a Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman. “it’s pretty clear, from reading the letter, that the people who wrote it are whip-smart and extremely talented.” Says Felix Salmon of Reuters, “its main authors are worth naming and celebrating: Akshat Tewary, Alexis Goldstein, Corley Miller, George Bailey, Caitlin Kline, Elizabeth Friedrich, and Eric Taylor.”

I haven’t read the entire 325 page letter yet, but what I have perused is impressive. I personally love how the Occupy SEC folks predicate the entire letter on the Volcker Rule with a footnote reference to their own declaration:

The first line of their letter reads: “The United States aspires to democracy, but no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.” All the rest of their arguments, in some cases, incredibly detailed arguments, follow from this main premise: people come first. I’ll list a couple of tidbits that I thought worth savoring.

“Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Schapiro told the Financial Services Committee that, “[w]e have no interest in pursuing activity where people are intending to provide market-making and get it wrong.” The banking lobby was undoubtedly heartened by this frank admission of regulatory forbearance. Even so, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the other Agencies are reminded that Section 619 requires strict compliance and imposes strict liability. Nowhere does the statute forgive “well-intentioned” breaches of the law.”

Indeed, why should ‘intentions’ enter into it? How often does a speeding motorists get to plead that they didn’t ‘intend’ to speed?

Here’s another noteworthy admonishment:

“The Proposed Rule also evinces a remarkable solicitude for the interests of banking corporations over those of investors, consumers, taxpayers and other human beings. In their Overview of the Proposed Rule, “the Agencies request comment on the potential impacts the proposed approach may have on banking entities and the businesses in which they engage,” but curiously fail to solicit comment on the potential impact on consumers, depositors, or taxpayers.… The Agencies seem to have lost sight of the fact that “interested persons” could include human beings, and not just banking corporations.”

Corporate banking interests are paramount for the SEC, superseding day to day human beings who must live and die because of the fallout /and or failure of such regulations.

Finally this lovely slap down, worthy of Karl Marx:

“The “invisible hand of the free market,” that darling cherub of neoliberal economics, will likely push much of the current proprietary trading into the folds of hedge funds or traditional investment banks, not eliminate them outright (assuming, of course, that such activities actually add productive value to the economy). The Volcker Rule simply removes the government’s all-too-visible hand from underneath the pampered haunches of banking conglomerates.”

Translation, if you want to trade risky financial instruments, have at it, but don’t expect US tax payers to bail you out. You can be a hedge fund or a traditional bank (foregoing financially insane instruments like CDSs), but you can’t be both.

You can read the full text of the comment letter here (pdf).

Here are the steps the Occupy SEC folks recommend should you wish to write your own letter:

Read the Congressional Record from July 15th, 2010 where Sens. Merkley and Levin describe the Volcker Rule. (pdf here)

Read the statutory text for the Volcker Rule (part of the Dodd-Frank Act) here.

Read the implementation of the statute, which is the Volcker Rule Text, all 500+ pages of it (don’t worry, it’s double-spaced, pdf) here.

To send in your comment letter, here are the directions for electronic or paper comment submissions. Good luck and keep us posted!

~~~

As always, APV thanks our friend, activist and writer Jack Johnson for contributing his work to our blog.
DCKennedy

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Prisons, an ALEC forte

If you build it, they will come. ~Justice Policy Institute on prisons

What’s happening to the prison system at the state and federal level is completely over the top and being questioned on both sides of the aisle as seen in the Florida senate last week.

Is it possible that members of the Republican Party are rethinking their extreme neoliberal aims, or are they concerned about re-election as the public becomes more aware of their preference for all things “profit” over the needs and concerns of the American people? Maybe it’s a little of both. But the Florida Senate President sent a clear message to their dissenters when he removed Mike Fasano from the budget panel, took him off the main budget committee, and stripped him of his Senate Budget Committee Chairmanship. All that for opposing the party plans to privatize 27 Florida prisons.

It’s not about housing violent criminals anymore, or saving or creating jobs either. It’s about corporate money and the influence it has in Washington and elsewhere. While the state prison population is in decline, there’s been a 1,700 percent increase in the federal prison budget since 1980.

President Obama’s 2013 budget request cuts Medicare and Medicaid but it adds an additional 4.2 percent increase to the already ridiculous federal prison budget. At this time, that is a gross misuse of scarce federal dollars, especially as they know they’re cutting back on every program and service known to ease the problem. This is another example of the neoliberal mantra: First break it, then get paid to rebuild it in your own image, and funnel the money up to the top.

It’s a clear indication that something is haywire when 6 out of 10 federal prisoners are non-violent drug offenders. Cutting diversion programs that keep kids from entering the corrections system, along with community-based substance abuse and mental health services is a sure-fire way to increase the population prisons are concerned with, and that’s what they’re doing. Evidence-based programs for youth violence prevention, employment, job skills, and education resources for underserved communities have all been on the chopping block. What they’re doing is building more places to put more problems – after they create them. So … why are they doing that? Well, a lot of it has to do with ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Pragmatic men of power have no time or inclination to deal with . . . social morality. ~ Kenneth B. Clark

At the state level, privatization of prisons has spread across the country as ALEC’s secret corporate writers promote “templets” as model legislation for our now seemingly inept legislators. Of course, that process funnels money into political and corporate coffers with no regard for the people at all. To the contrary, the aim appears to be to fill all the prison cells they can build, since many of the laws involve new and innovative ways to do just that.

NCR did a good two-part expose’ last year on the effects of the GEO Group in Texas and Mississippi – the same company that was voted down in the Florida Senate last week. It’s a great account of where we’re headed with ALEC at the helm:

Part one: Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits
Part two: Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble

ALEC Exposed is an August 2011 series by The Nation, something I’m sure everybody will eventually get around to reading as ALEC continues to gain strength and influence. It’s an excellent series of articles – I think it’s in 5 parts. The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor is one part of it and explains, I think, why we have all this conservative focus on prison building and privatization and the subsequent need to fill those prison cells with able bodies. See what you think.

Also, on February 29, Occupy Portland has a call to action targeting corporations that are known leaders and funders of ALEC.

#F29 Shut Down the Corporations

Here’s the official page, and Common Dreams did a good piece on it yesterday:

DCKennedy

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The Tea Partys war on mass transit – Dream City – Salon.com

We’re seeing the same thing at the state level here in Virginia where another factor is at play, the Tea Party’s war against unionized labor so often associated with mass transit.

“Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor.”

via The Tea Partys war on mass transit – Dream City – Salon.com.

The Safety Target

Fukushima

APV’s official position on nuclear energy is focused on safety, a critical intermediate step toward clean renewable standards for energy production in America.

We have fodder enough in the continuing reports on the meltdown of Fukushima’s reactors and the devastation it’s causing the people of Japan and their environment to consider improved safety regulations at nuclear reactor sites an issue worth APV’s attention.

So, what safety precautions are reasonable, and should that be determined as weighed in the balance of profits to be made by industry stakeholders? Both questions have simple answers: Whatever it takes to protect the people and environment is reasonable. And to the second question: No.

Unfortunately, neither answer is in play for nuclear energy production or any other energy production. Glaring examples of that are spilled in the Gulf, contaminating water at fracking sites and consuming precious resources at mountaintop removal coal mining sites, among others. This is typical of deregulation and overreach where ethics and safety are overlooked to increase corporate profits.

A dumbfounding example of this happened yesterday. For the first time in 34 years, a utility was granted a license to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia. In the wake of the Fukushima event, the license was granted without even requiring the same commitment to safety planned by the NRC for existing sites across the country. Sure, they’ll be new and improved. They’ll be modern and different. So why isn’t it a given that something they’re planning to build in the future would be at least as safe as what we have planned for existing reactors?

US licenses first nuclear reactors since 1978
Gregory Jaczko, pushes for more safety requirements. He’s the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman and reportedly considered a trouble maker for industry owners’ groups. He was also the only ‘no’ vote: “There is still more work. I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened. I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that says it wants to improve nuclear safety not end nuclear power, sided with Jaczko. “The chairman has done the right thing. It makes no sense to rush into constructing any new reactor before the implications of Fukushima are fully understood and incorporated into NRC regulations.” ~UCS senior scientist Edwin Lyman

Thomas Fanning, the utility’s CEO, “declined to say why Southern would not agree to include language in the new license to complete potential Fukushima modifications before the reactors come online, as Jaczko suggested.”

When I read that part of the comment, “Southern would not agree to….”, I had to wonder where they get off refusing to agree to something the NRC puts forth, and how they get away with it. The answer, I believe, is in the article’s money quote:

Fanning: “The project is on track, and our targets related to cost and schedule are achievable.”

So … it appears the “safety target” didn’t make the cut and was tossed out. So much for the people’s safety. On the other hand, Southern is seeking an $8.3 billion loan guarantee from the federal government to cover its losses in the event that things don’t go “as planned”.

My conclusion is that Jaczko’s hands are being tied, and that as usual, powerful conservatives corrupt, break or get rid of any obstacle in their pursuit of maximum profit.

North Anna Nuclear Plant Damaged and Shut Down – Earthquake, August 23, 2011

In better news, APV recently petitioned the Commission. Our representative Erica Gray commented as follows:

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, February 2, 2012
North Anna Nuclear Safety:

(Conclusion)
In just six months, 80 or more aftershocks have followed the 5.8 earthquake that admittedly exceeded the North Anna plant’s design. APV reiterates our concern for the restart “commitments” which exclude adequate evacuation planning.

The State Capitol, Richmond, home to more than 1.25 million Virginians, is 40 miles down-wind from the North Anna plant. We have been informed by Richmond’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Mr. McLean, that no evacuation plan is in place because Richmond is outside the nuclear site’s official 10 mile radius.

While more than enough evidence demonstrates that a 10 mile radius is not sufficient, and that the absence of a plan poses additional hazard to the affected population facing a nuclear event, we find this to be an important and correctable issue among failures in safety oversight.

APV is asking the NRC to promptly issue rules requiring the appropriate local, state and federal agencies to develop comprehensive emergency evacuation plans for areas in a 50 mile radius of all 104 existing commercial nuclear power sites, including the North Anna facility, and that these plans be made available to the public.

Ultimately, the North Anna nuclear power plant poses a serious threat to Virginia residents and the environment. We ask that the NRC recognize the danger it presents, and take action accordingly. Thank you.

The Board’s reaction:
[The Board has accepted for further review the petitioner’s requested action that VEPCO submit a formal license amendment request for earthquake related modifications and licensing changes rather than how the plant was allowed to restart with only regulatory “commitments” which the petitioners assert have not and do not represent an adequate and enforceable regulatory tool.]

DCKennedy

Fact or fiction – Food safety and what you can do about it


When our government is not only condoning, but acting to spread the contamination of the world’s food supply, what are we supposed to think … and who will lead the charge for world food safety? When the people’s opposition is as strong as it is now, why isn’t our government’s position being covered in national media forums to clarify their intentions and answer the people’s questions?

The world’s people, experts, and scientific studies are being completely ignored as the United States legislates in favor of corporations, preventing us from being able to make our own safe food choices. This path we’re on is becoming more of a super highway, and all the while, irreparable damage is being done.

The concept of what’s happening seems more like the theme for a futuristic fantasy novel where innocence is succumbing to an evil power of some sort.

It might go something like this:
Spreading at a pace that will soon leave the world-at-large dependent on the dole of corporations for sustenance, the insidious contamination continues in spite of popular uprisings. As the people flounder, the protagonist, a well-developed character on the side of innocence – always smart, usually good-looking, charms the reader by failing a few times only to get up, dust herself off and continue trying to save the day. If hunger can be used as a weapon, she knows that future freedom could be decided by those with access to viable seeds. Efforts to control those seeds are being seen around the world in court cases – usually and suspiciously settled or decided in favor of the evil power.

Planning her next move, the heroine ponders recent developments that are limiting the people’s power to resist: propaganda and the filtering of available information, changes in voting access laws and the use of dubious electronic equipment, legalized wire tapping and diminishing privacy rights, changes in class action law, union busting, the denial of free speech and the process of redress, state violence used against peaceful protesters ….

“This doesn’t look good,” she whispers to her adorable but ill-behaved dog, and her concern deepens as she continues with her list: privatized prisons with quotas, corporatized education, secret interpretations of the law. But the last item on the list, “indefinite detention of suspected terrorists”, gives her new pause.

More people are growing their own food. Private gardens that provide fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere. The prepping process, canning or freezing to maximize a season’s bounty, is also widespread … but having seven days worth of stored food is listed as “suspicious activity” used to determine and identify citizens as state terrorists.

And so on and so forth ….

You have to be living under a rock not to be aware of this hardly debatable issue. Food safety, clean air, clean water … basic, basic stuff. And they’re all at risk because of the spread of conservative, neoliberal and libertarian ideology. Every one of their gains is a loss for the people, even as what they’re doing is against their own basic principle. What they’re doing causes damage to others. In order to continue on with their profit-driven mismanagement of our world’s resources, including our food supply, they just deny reality and hope we aren’t noticing. It’s got to stop.

A short but really good explanation of what I mean is in George Monbiot’s article about their core argument: “the procedural justice account of property rights”.

We are the protagonist of our own novel. Our character is being portrayed as weak, conflicted and ineffectual, but together we can rewrite the story. Joining a grassroots organization near you increases our strength by sheer numbers. Organizations like APV effectively join hands across the country giving our member lists the credibility of a voting bloc. As assumed voters, those lists are a force giving progressives a national voice, in some cases thwarting destructive ideas before they even become proposals. That’s what we need. We need our numbers to be threatening. Having your name on a grassroots list for progressives is the least you can do if you want to help turn things around.

Unless you have something more pressing in mind than eating food and breathing air, let’s get it done. These corporations are not holding their breath in anticipation of you taking action, but progressives are at this point! Please don’t put it off.

Here’s an example of our work. During the Alliance for Progressive Values’ lobbying event in Washington, September 22-23, members of our legislative team presented members of Congress with copies of the APV White Paper prepared by our Public Policy department on the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms.

It’s an outstanding paper, so I hope you’ll read it, too. Foxes Guarding the Hen House: Big Business, Lax Regulation and the Case Against GMOs (pdf)

The good news is, the cards are still being dealt in the political mess America is in now, but what’s showing on the table clearly indicates that we need your help. Don’t gamble on something so important by not doing something so simple. Please. Find a group that you like and join it.

You can check out APV’s website and join here if it suits you. Here’s more about having a membership – which is 25 dollars and bare bones cheap considering what we do, which you can read all about on the website.

I’m really hoping to see some new names on the list – and yours could be one of them. Think about it, please. APV has an amazing, hardworking team of volunteers, many of whom are taking time from work to do this for you, your family and the future of our country.

Thanks a million in advance!
DCKennedy

Various media articles about the contamination of our food supply:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/02/201224152439941847.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/a-suit-airs-debate-on-organic-vs-modified-crops.html?_r=2&ref=us
http://www.ucsusa.org/news/press_release/monsanto-fails-sustainable-ag-1368.html
http://www.readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/9779-france-defeats-monsanto-
http://grist.org/food/challenging-monsanto-in-munich/ (background)

The Invisible Hand Pummeling Public Schools

 

I can’t think of a more despicable or far-reaching example of ideology being forced on Americans than the money-grabbing obsession with dismantling our time-honored public school system. School choice, vouchers, corporate scholarships, educational freedom – call it what you like – the privatization of public schools is a movement on steroids. Every day the states are hit with new bills to aid neoliberals in their goal to educate Americans “their” way. The means to that end vary for different blocs of support, but all roads meet where powerful people control and market information.

A generation or two down this widening road to schools with selective entry and exit for students, religious indoctrination and poorly regulated online learning for the masses, the real people of America, our strength, will rely on the free market crumbs that fall from the learning opportunities available to the elite. Trickledown education is in the making.

Bit by bit, new interpretations change the meanings of our laws. Remember how that happened in Orwell’s Animal Farm?

No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.

~~~~~

No public school shall proselytize except by students.

Remember when public schools were not missionary fields? Just yesterday, the Florida Senate advanced a bill to allow prayer led by students. Proponents of religion in schools call this one “a God-given loophole” – peer evangelism. And of course, as religion gains ground in public schools to appease the religious right (a targeted voting bloc), separation of church and state, a main and valid objection to privatization is being overcome. As the separation objection loses its punch, vouchers allowing taxpayer money to be funneled into private schools become six of one, half-dozen of the other.

In How religion is infiltrating public schools, Katherine Stewart highlights this Animal Farm type “modification” made by the Supreme Court differentiating school-sponsored speech from student speech, allowing students to proselytize on federal property.

In New Heights Middle School in Jefferson, South Carolina:

School-sponsored prayers routinely opened and closed assemblies and performances. Religious messages made their way into lesson plans, and religious iconography decorated the walls. Students were punished for minor infractions by being told to write out sentences proclaiming their faith in God.

A number of these activities … appear to be violations of the clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution intended to maintain separation between church and state. And the school board admits as much in its proposed settlement of the ACLU case. Yet an even greater number of religious activities in public schools have recently become legal as a result of novel interpretations of the Constitution handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ironically, had the administration of New Heights been a little smarter, it could have achieved its apparent goal of using the school’s position of authority to spread the word of God among its captive students without running the risk of being sued. Thousands of other schools across the country do just that.

All taxpayers shall contribute to public education unless they don’t.

Diverting funds away from the public schools through vouchers and other means will exacerbate every problem in the system, effectively breaking it. Defunding, attacking teachers and unions, etc., is the means. The golden rule in the neoliberal sweep to privatize the public good is: First, break it. Second, get paid to rebuild it in your own image. Third, funnel the money and benefits up to the top.

Money talks, regulation walks – The Cash Cow for Now  

How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools by investigative journalist Lee Fang, points out the astonishing amount of investment capital flowing into online education. The rush to privatize in this way by businesses and “philanthropists” like the Koch brothers, is pretty transparent. Rupert Murdoch called it “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN) have been the pivotal organizations aiding in the campaign for virtual schools.

Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. (…)

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories.

It’s not a leap to assume that when corporations are in control of education, so will be information.

Typical of neoliberal fancy, virtual schools lack regulation and public debate. And without sufficient oversight or quality control, most online learning companies receive the same amount of taxpayer funding per-pupil as brick and mortar schools. Saving on the teacher-to-student ratio, costs for classrooms, transportation, meals, security, equipment, maintenance and other building support staff – and many other expenses associated with traditional learning, the profit margin for virtual education companies is so seductive that obscene amounts of their money is spent to lobby our lawmakers.

“Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education.” (…)

“In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.
State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish.

Online learning in K-12 schools is still growing explosively, and public support for this arm of privatization is just baffling. Early on, it was promoted for computer literacy and otherwise unavailable courses, but that’s a distant memory. In 2006, Michigan stepped forward to become the 1st state requiring online learning for high school graduation, regardless of need.

If the public has been reticent in its opposition to online education, it may be because information on its success or failure to actually educate is hard to come by and often skewed. Its promotion has been framed to cover the bases, appealing to the voting blocs of rural communities, urban communities, home schoolers, the parents of children with special learning needs, and a myriad of “bully” and other social issues, including student acne. But the bottom line is profit for the few, poor education for the many.

While different issues continue to plague the most basic requirements for virtual schools to actually educate, they are not without some easily understood merit in the cases of some students. But one-third of our high school students drop out, and truancy issues usually precede throwing in the towel. Obama would like for the states to enforce education requirements to age 18. I think that would force many students into online study (a boon for business) where truancy is already a problem for students who have left traditional schools in favor of virtual classes, and where there’s no viable way to track online attendance.

To me, this doesn’t sound like an honest effort to educate; it sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme at the expense of education and the taxpayer:

“By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.
Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.
(…)
The state audit of the Colorado Virtual Academy, which found that the state paid for students who were not attending the school, ordered the reimbursement of more than $800,000.

With retention a problem, some teachers said they were under pressure to pass students with marginal performance and attendance.
Students need simply to log in to be marked present for the day, according to Agora teachers and administrators.” (emphasis mine)
Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

So, yes. Online learning would reduce class sizes in traditional schools. But as the public school system is being privatized, who is that intended to benefit? Corporations! And another neoliberal offering we hear a lot about these days would have the same effect: repealing child labor laws. I think it’s clear that the motive behind these efforts aligns less with the people of America caring for and educating our children, and more with washing our hands of the responsibility. Every relationship of ‘hegemony’ is necessarily an educational relationship. ~A. Gramsci

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~DCKennedy