James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Obama's Tax Deal and the Future of Social Security

| Wed Dec. 22, 2010 1:36 PM EST

It’s worth pointing out once again that  last week’s  tax deal is hardly the victory for the American people it is made out to be. One of the biggest chunks -- 13 percent of the total monies — comes from Social Security and Medicare in the form of a one-year cut in payroll taxes. The government promises to pay back what it is taking from the Social Security trust fund by borrowing the money, then floating bonds to guarantee  repayment.

This one year abeyance might not seem like much. But with the coming of a right-wing Republican House, under pressure from the further fringes in the tea party, it does not augur well for the future of the program. From its inception under FDR, the Republicans have dreamed of getting rid of Social Security, along with such other things as the Federal Reserve, the income tax, the Department of Education, and the UN.

“Social Security’s dedicated funding base is jeopardized by this deal in an unprecedented way and there is a grave risk now that the retirement benefits of America’s workers will have to compete with our other priorities for a share of the general budget,” said Rep. Loyd Doggett (D-Tex.) at a press conference held by the National Committee To Preserve Social Security and Medicare. ”It would result in Social Security being as dependent on annual Congressional action as public television or our national parks.”

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Georgia Prisoners’ Strike: “We locked ourselves down.”

| Mon Dec. 13, 2010 7:16 PM EST

In a protest that appears to be spreading through Georgia's prison system, inmates are striking for better conditions. One interesting facet of this rare prison strike, which reaches across multiple facilities and across racial and factional lines, is the participants' use of self-imposed lockdown to serve their own goals.

Lockdown, in which prisoners are confined to their cells for up to 24 hours a day, is routinely imposed on inmates for punishment or as a "security" measure. In this case, however, prisoners are refusing to leave their cells until their demands are taken seriously. The Georgia Corrections Department's only response so far, ironically, has been to place the affected prisons on lockdown. As the New York Times reported:

"We're not coming out until something is done. We're not going to work until something is done," said one inmate at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. He refused to give his name because he was speaking on a banned cellphone...

The Corrections Department placed several of the facilities where inmates planned to strike under indefinite lockdown on Thursday, according to local reports.

"We're hearing in the news they're putting it down as we're starting a riot, so they locked all the prison down," said a 20-year-old inmate at Hays State Prison in Trion, who also refused to give his name. But, he said, "We locked ourselves down."

The best roundup we've found of information and context on the strike appears today on Prison Law Blog, including a full list of the prisoners' demands, excerpted below.

· A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

· EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

· DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

· AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

· DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

· NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

· VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

· ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

· JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Obama's Deficit Commission Prepares to Carve Its Turkey

| Sun Nov. 28, 2010 2:49 PM EST

The dread report of the White House’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is due out this week.  One of the Commission’s co-chairs, the putative Democrat and consummate wheeler-dealer Erskine Bowles, has been up on the Hill flogging their plan to reduce the debt by cutting the country’s already skimpy programs for the old, the sick, and the poor. His partner, motor-mouth Republican Alan Simpson, continues his ranting and ravings against the greedy geezers who want to sink his entitlement-cutting ship before it’s launched. Both of them have taken to boo-hooing because no one appreciates all the work they are doing to save the nation from certain fiscal doom, and nobody is willing to pitch in to meet this noble goal.

Personally, I’m still waiting to hear how Wall Street is going to pitch in and do its part--or the people with high six-figure incomes who claim they still aren’t rich enough to give up their tax cuts. Or, for that matter, Bowles and Simpson themselves, who retired on fat  pensions and don’t have a financial care in the world.  Since none of this is likely to happen any time soon, we’d better take a good hard look at what these sanctimonious old coots have come up with.

We already know a lot about what to expect from the Fiscal Commission Plan, since the co-chairs released their own preliminary proposals (as yet unapproved by the 18-member Commission) earlier this month. According to people with access to the Commission’s thinking, they seem to believe their best bet is to achieve consensus on a proposal to change the way Social Security’s annual cost of living increases (COLAs) are calculated. What seems like a mere accounting adjustment would, in reality, severely affect benefits over time. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare explains the impact of this scheme:

Invasion of the Body Scanners: Airport Security May Not Work, But It Does Cause Cancer

| Tue Nov. 23, 2010 2:00 PM EST

On the eve of some of the busiest travel days of the year, airport scanners are causing hysteria–and with good reason. Never mind the puerile TSA screeners giggling at your naked body. It turns out that the things may pose serious health concerns. In a letter to John Pistole, administrator of TSA, New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, a scientist and the Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, raised the possibility that the machines might be carcinogenic.

In March, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus (of which I am a co-chair) hosted a presentation on this technology by TSA, as well as a briefing by Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the potential health effects of “back scatter” x-ray devices. As Dr. Brenner noted in his presentation and in subsequent media interviews, the devices currently in use and proposed for wider deployment this year currently deliver to the scalp “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry.”

Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each year develop. According to Dr. Brenner, excessive x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier, which is why our government should investigate thoroughly the potential health risks associated with this technology.V

Various experts have questioned whether older people and children ought to be subjected to scanners, and whether people susceptible to or having melanoma and cataracts should undergo the scan. 

Holt also questioned the efficacy of the body scanners, which would come as no surprise to critics who’ve been lambasting them for years. Last January, when the government’s appetite for body scanners got a big boost from the underwear bomber, there was skepticism about their ability to detect the types of explosives favored by would-be airline bombers. As I wrote at the time:

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