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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Older Prisoners Denied Social Security

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 8:00 AM EDT

Not long ago I described the plight of the growing numbers of older prisoners filling up the country’s prisons and jails. They receive poor health care and are subject to any number of cruel and inhuman punishments—people with bad arthritis are required to climb into upper bunks to sleep; it's next to impossible for inmates in wheelchairs to access parts of prisons available to younger people, like baths. Among the worst sights described to me by a medical consultant were sick and often older inmates of an Alabama women’s prison who were forced to get out of bed at 3 a.m. and stand in lines to obtain medicine.

Another major issue faced by older prisoners is that they do not receive Social Security from the fund they paid into for years before being convicted of a crime. Lois Ahrens, who runs the indispenable Real Cost of Prisons Project, alerted me to the situation of David Hinman, a prisoner in Iowa. Now 65 years old, he contributed to Social Security for years while in the free world. He is not eligible for parole for a number of years. He wrote to Ahrens:

Currently the government will not pay people in prison social security. I am speaking about paying social security to those who paid into the fund. Payment is based on what they paid in. Even though I am now 65 and paid into the fund, since I am in prison I am not allowed to collect unless I am released from prison. By not paying inmates the social security to which they are entitled, I believe this is in some manner, theft.

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Sotomayor for the Prosecution

| Wed Jul. 15, 2009 3:18 PM EDT

Sonia Sotomayor's all-but-certain confirmation will be a notable victory for Democrats, and for the cause of diversity on the nation's highest court. Whether it will be a victory for criminal justice is another question—one that seems to matter little to most of her liberal supporters. Read the progressive case against Sotomayor here.

Congress's $1.2 Million a Day Drug Habit—and Pharma's Phony "Gift" to Health Care Reform

| Tue Jun. 30, 2009 3:49 AM EDT

Big Pharma pulled off a first-class PR coup last week with its widely celebrated pledge to support health care reform by offering up a package of discounts they claim will run to $80 billion over the next ten years. The highlight of the package, said to be worth about $30 billion, is a 50 percent discount offered to old and disabled people who fall into the "donut hole," the notorious coverage gap in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, which leaves some of us paying as much as $3,000 out of pocket for our meds.

Announcing the agreement, President Obama hailed the drug-makers for offering "significant relief" to a "continuing injustice that has placed a great burden on many seniors," and for helping to reach "a turning point in America's journey toward health care reform." AARP, the mammoth old people's lobby, was right there at Obama's shoulder, with head man Barry Rand trumpeting that industry's progress: "This is an early win for reform and a major step forward. It is a signal the process is working and will work." The deal was also seen as a victory for Senate finance committee chair Max Baucus (D-MT), who engineered negotiations in his self-assigned role as champion compromiser in the reform debate. But the real triumph belongs to the drug companies themselves, since the supposedly magnanimous offer is just what we might expect it to be, considering the source: another wolf in sheep's clothing from Big Pharma.

When it comes to securing their interests against even the flimsiest of threats, the drug-makers' pockets appear bottomless. A look at last week's Center for Responsive Politics report on the industry offers an awe-inspiring view of the druggies in action: To begin with, we're not talking about a handful of lobbyists twisting the arms of members of Congress. Pharma had 1,814 flacks at work last year and 1,309 in the first 3 months of this year. That's 12 percent of all the lobbyists in Washington. Last year alone the drug industry spent $234 million on lobbying. In the first three months of this year, it spent more than $66.5 million—$1.2 million a day. And that doesn't include polling, advertising, and research. Among the top recipients of Pharma funds are several members of the Senate finance committee, including Baucus himself, who have positioned themselves as a "coalition of the willing" dedicated to promoting a bipartisan middle ground on health care reform—in other words, minor changes that won't seriously affect private sector profits.

Deadly Collision on the DC Metro: The Questions Begin

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 5:25 AM EDT

The latest numbers have at least seven people dead and dozens more injured in the terrible rush-hour crash on the Washington Metro's Red Line (see David Corn's photos from the scene here).

There’s been no official word yet about what caused the crash. But here’s a roundup of some possibilities.

By last night, the Washington Post had quickly confirmed what veteran Metro riders might  have suspected: The automatic “fail-safes” had failed. The Post reports: 

Metro was designed with a fail-safe computerized signal system that is supposed to prevent trains from colliding. The agency’s trains are run by onboard computers that control speed and braking. Another electronic system detects the position of trains to maintain a safe distance between them. If they get too close, the computers automatically apply the brakes, stopping the trains. These systems were supposed to make yesterday’s crash impossible.

This isn’t the first time the Metro’s signal systems have failed–the Post documents several others. The computerized system was also shut down for a year and a half in 1999 to 2000, and the system run manually by train operators, because repairs were needed on the communications relays that are also supposed to prevent trains from coming close enough to collide:

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