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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After Sandy, a Taxpayer Bailout for Flood-Prone Developments?

| Tue Nov. 13, 2012 5:39 PM EST

From a Coast Guard flyover of Long Island after Hurricane Sandy.

The catastrophic damage left by Hurricane Sandy has once again underscored the costly shortcomings of the way we—that is, federal taxpayers—insure property owners against the monster storms that are becoming ever more predictable as the planet warms and sea levels rise.

Storms, not terrorists, present the biggest threat to the coastal cities and communities that are home to more than half of all Americans—not to mention critical conduits for international trade. And yet the FEMA-administered federal flood insurance program, which took a bath after Hurricane Katrina six years ago, is still foundering. As the New York Times reported this morning:

The federal program collects about $3.5 billion in annual premiums. But in four of the past eight years, claims will have eclipsed premiums, most glaringly in 2005—the year of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma—when claims totaled $17.7 billion. Private insurance companies have long avoided offering flood insurance to homeowners.

"It's like rat poison to them," said Tony Bullock, an insurance industry lobbyist, explaining how the risk outweighs the benefit for private insurers. "You need the federal backstop."

While Sandy's overall financial toll has yet to be tallied, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has estimated damages in New York state alone at $50 billion. No more than $20 billion of the overall cost will be covered by private insurance, says Cynthia McHale, director of the insurance program at Ceres, a sustainable-economy coalition consisting of companies, investors, and public-interest groups. This puts most of the remaining burden on state and federal governments.

2 Swing States That Swing on Felon Disenfranchisement

| Fri Nov. 2, 2012 6:08 AM EDT

A new infographic from the Prison Policy Initiative (cropped version below) does a nice job of illustrating the massive vote-suppression tactic we wrote about previously—one that could hand two crucial states to Mitt Romney. While most states forbid people to vote while in prison, and many extend that ban to people on parole, only a handful make it next to impossible to regain your right to vote if you've ever been convicted of a felony. Do the crime, and you'll never vote again.

Among that handful of states are two where Obama and Romney have been running neck and neck—Florida and Virginia. (Nate Silver's model shows Romney leading in Florida and Obama ahead in Virginia.) According to PPI's data, a full 9 percent of Florida's voting-age population is disenfranchised because they have at one time been incarcerated. In Virginia, the figure is 6 percent.

Given that a disproportionate number of disenfranchised ex-felons are people of color, and that Obama polls far ahead of Mitt Romney in the black and Latino communities, the assumption is that a majority of the missing votes would favor Obama—possibly enough to win him these states even if only a fraction of ex-felons voted. The results of this election may therefore hinge on the denial of a basic right to men and women who have long since paid their debt to society, but remain permanently excluded from the democratic process.

Click on image to see the full poster. Prison Policy InitiativeClick on image to see the full poster. Prison Policy Initiative





Prisoners to Remain on Rikers Island As Hurricane Sandy Heads for New York

| Mon Oct. 29, 2012 1:07 PM EDT

UPDATE, October 30: NYC DOC Deputy Commissioner Matthew Nerzig provided the following statement via email: “No power outages on Rikers last night. No significant flooding or disruption of our operations. The Commissioner [DOC Commissioner Dora Schriro] spent the night there.”

The authors would still appreciate hearing from families whose loved ones (prisoners or staff) weathered the storm on Rikers and can provide accounts of their experiences. Email: solitarywatchnews@gmail.com.

  .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

 At a press conference yesterday afternoon on New York City’s preparations for Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was asked about the safety of prisoners on Rikers Island, which lies near the mouth of Long Island Sound, between Queens and the Bronx. Bloomberg appeared annoyed by the question, and responded somewhat opaquely: “Rikers Island, the land is up where they are and jails are secured.” Apparently unable to fathom that anyone’s main concern would be for the welfare of the more than 12,000 prisoners on Rikers, Bloomberg then reassured listeners: “Don’t worry about anybody getting out.”

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