2006 - %3, June

The book banners are at it again

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 9:23 PM EDT

The ACLU has asked a federal judge to stop the Miami-Dade County school district from removing some children's books from its libraries. The books include Vamos a Cuba and A Visit to Cuba, and were removed because school officials say they contain inaccuracies about life in a Communist country. Both the county schools chief and two advisory committees recommended that the books stay on the shelves, but the county board voted to remove them.

Vamos a Cuba contains pictures of smiling children wearing Communist youth group uniforms and celebrating the revolution of 1959.

What is interesting is that one can be fairly certain that the Miami-Dade district has never tried to remove from the schools the hundreds of history textbooks that are riddled with inaccuracies and distortions about our own history and culture.

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How the Mentally Ill Are Treated

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 8:23 PM EDT

Since there isn't enough to be horrified about these days, read this St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigation into the abuses taking place in Missouri's mental institutions. Thousands of "mentally retarded and mentally ill people… have been sexually assaulted, beaten, injured and left to die by abusive and neglectful caregivers." The public tends not to find out about this stuff thanks to "secrecy laws, shoddy investigations and ambivalent police and prosecutors." Every year, meanwhile, state officials promise to "do better." Here's what doing better entails:

In 2002, a privately run home in Bolivar let a man's bed sores rot his flesh so badly that he died. Two years earlier, state workers repeatedly and severely beat mentally retarded boys in Marshall…

One mentally retarded man [in a facility near Overland] prone to swallowing things died in November after swallowing an ink pen. The resident, Michael Pallme, was supposed to be watched constantly.

Another patient, Rudy Wallace, died in March from burns so severe his skin began falling off after a worker left him in scalding water.

But those incidents are only a fraction of what has occurred inside the state and private facilities that house more than 11,000 state residents who have the most severe cases of mental retardation, developmental disabilities and mental illness.Now in a country where pundits will applaud one presidential candidate for flying back to Arkansas to execute a functionally-retarded criminal and where another president orders the torture of a mentally-disturbed prisoner so as not to "lose face", maybe this won't come as a surprise, but it should still be intolerable.

Some very cursory searching on Google and Nexis didn't bring up any similar stories about mental institutions in other states, but I'm probably looking in the wrong place. The largest "institutions" in the country nowadays are prisons, which house some 300,000 people with mental disorders, and tend to have poor mental-health services and plenty of abuse to go around. In 2003, Human Rights Watch did a report on prisoners with mental illnesses:

In the most extreme cases, conditions are truly horrific: mentally ill prisoners locked in segregation with no treatment at all; confined in filthy and beastly hot cells; left for days covered in feces they have smeared over their bodies; taunted, abused, or ignored by prison staff; given so little water during summer heat waves that they drink from their toilet bowls…. Suicidal prisoners are left naked and unattended for days on end in barren, cold observation cells. Poorly trained correctional officers have accidentally asphyxiated mentally ill prisoners whom they were trying to restrain.
It doesn't even take "the most extreme cases" to see things are bad. From people who have worked closely on this issue, I've heard plenty of stories of, say, prisoners who simply won't be "officially" classified as mentally ill despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, and will then get written up by guards at the first outburst of strange behavior (say, compulsive masturbating in their cell), leading to a longer prison sentence. Is this likely to make things a) better or b) worse? Yeah, I wonder too.

A summary of the HRW report is here. Among other things, HRW notes that until this country gets serious about the community mental health systems that were supposed to replace mental hospitals after "deinstitutionalization" in the 1960s, prisons will continue to serve as mental institutions of last resort. I'd like to know what effects the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act, passed by Congress in 2004, has had but perhaps it's too early to tell. It also appears that the "war on drugs," the gift that keeps on giving, has disproportionately affected the mentally ill as the prison population continues to expand and expand without end.

NYC to Bush: Drop Dead!

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 6:47 PM EDT

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly lambasted the Bush administration's plan to cut terrorism funding to New York and Washington by more than 40 percent this morning in a hearing before Long Island Congressman Peter King's House Committee on Homeland Security. King, himself a conservative Republican, has been furious with the administration over department's plan to reduce New York City's antiterrorist funds to $124.4 million in 2006, down from $207.5 million a year ago. "It was indefensible, it was disgraceful, and it raises very real questions about the competency of this department," he said in the hearing.

The process of applying for antiterror funding "should not be a contest to see who could write the best term paper for their college class," argued Bloomberg. The administration, however, has called New York's antiterror program "ineffective", and has argued that the city doesn't have any national monuments or icons worth protecting.

In the same hearing, New York congresswoman Nita Lowey pointed out that while New York was responding to warnings of a planned cyanide attack on its subways, Columbus, Ohio was buying bulletproof vests for its police dogs.

It's worth remembering that on 9/11 itself, the administration was severely lacking in its ability to so much as communicate with New York and Washington. The President on Air Force One had no telephone contact with D.C. for much of the day; the military was not informed of the hijackings until it was too late to act; and neither the airlines nor the FAA told New York city officials about the attacks in progress until the planes hit the buildings, even though they had blow-by-blow accounts from flight attendants 10 minutes after the hijackings began—early enough to begin getting people out of the second World Trade Center Tower. There's little indication matters have improved much since then.

In the wake of 9/11, Bush fought to prevent an investigation of the attacks, and tried his best to keep information from a congressional inquiry under wraps. Having used the attacks as justification for the war in Iraq, the president now seems ready to dump New York and move on to places where Republicans must attend to their electoral base. Here, (via CBS), are a few of the places that will be getting more antiterrorism money under the administration's plan:

  • Jacksonville, Fla. 2005 funds: $6.8 million. 2006 funds: $9.2 million. Increase: 26%. Major landmark: Alltel Stadium, home of Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • St. Louis; 2005 funds: $7 million. 2006 funds: $9.2 million. Increase: 23.6%. Major landmark: Gateway Arch.
  • Louisville, Ky.; 2005 funds: $5 million. 2006 funds: $8.5 million. Increase: 41.2%. Major landmark: Churchill Downs race track.
  • Omaha 2005 funds: $5.1 million. 2006 funds: $8.3 million. Increase: 38.2%. Major landmark: Offutt Air Force Base.

Will Democrats Roll Over for Timber Companies?

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 2:52 PM EDT
Some big companies are boosting their share of campaign contributions to Democrats this year, a sign that executives may be starting to hedge their political bets after a decade of supporting congressional Republicans.
The Wall Street Journal ran that little item a few days ago. Corporations are filling up the donkey coffers. That's good for the Democrats, who get more money to run their little campaigns, which probably makes a difference at the margins.

But it's not nearly as sweet for everyone else, seeing as how corporate-owned Democrats tend to be the worst sort of Democrats. Exhibit A is this New York Times story today about how a few Democrats might give up their opposition to estate tax repeal—which is currently stalled in the Senate—in exchange for tax breaks for the timber industry. None of the Senators have wavered yet, but Dems on the payroll of Big Timber at risk of reversing their stances include Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

No Immigration Bill for Now

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 2:17 PM EDT

On one level, it seems like unabashed good news that the House has decided to put off negotiating any sort of immigration bill with the Senate until after the fall elections. After all, the betting line is that, even if the Democrats don't retake the House and the Senate, there will at least be more Democrats in Congress, which will likely make it harder for the GOP to pass a draconian immigration bill with walls along the border and mass deportations and the like.

But I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to a summer of "public hearings" on immigration from the House, which will likely consist of bashing the Senate's bill and trumpeting the House Republicans' own, more stringent bill. What are the odds that this won't degenerate into a babble of anti-immigrant demagoguery? Oh, right, zero.

More ways to wreck whale ears

| Wed Jun. 21, 2006 2:51 AM EDT

Let's see. Most of the world has agreed to protect whales from extinction; whales rely on sound waves to navigate, communicate, in short, survive; so what we'll do is shoot "air guns" (sounds so innocuous, right?) into the ocean whose deafening sound can be heard from the California coast clear to the other end of the Pacific? This makes sense in whose world? The answer in a second; meanwhile, check out whale expert Dick Russell's piece in Mother Jones special oceans coverage on another sound source that has been causing whales to beach themselves en masse, some with their brains literally scrambled. Now--ready? The air guns (which are bad for squid, too) are "critical in the search for tomorrow's oil and gas resources," according to Exxon Mobil.

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Press Secretary does Snow job on Imus

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 9:42 PM EDT

It doesn't take much to get Don Imus to endorse all manner of lies and distortions. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow found it was pretty easy on June 14 when he stated that George W. Bush had never linked Saddam Hussein with the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Snow quoted Bush as saying "there's no demonstrated link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9-11, and we're never going to make that argument." Of course, Bush did make that link. For example, he made it in his letter of March 21, 2003 to the Speaker of the House and the President Pre Tempre of the Senate. Dick Cheney made the same link on two different appearances on Meet the Press, and the September 11 Commission reported that as early as September 12, 2001, Bush asked his staff to explore links between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of the day before. Bush's insistence that such a link be made is documented by former U.S. Treasurer Paul O'Neill in Ron Suskind's The Price Of Loyalty, and by former national security specialist Richard A. Clarke in Against All Enemies.

New Budget Rules Are a Disaster

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 8:44 PM EDT

Fair warning: we're about to wade into some murky budget-related territory here, but these are important issues, so let's go. The House Budget Committee just approved a bill to give the president the line-item veto, which would allow Bush to strip out any piece of a spending bill he didn't like.

I happen to think this is a truly terrible idea, and you can read all about it here and here. The measure is being hyped as a way to let the president control "pork-barrel" spending, but in all likelihood, it will end up being used as a weapon for political retaliation—the president will get the power to nix spending projects in districts of representatives he wants to screw over. A man who orders that mentally disturbed prisoners be tortured so that he can "save face" surely doesn't deserve more power. We can all agree on that. Anyway, it gets worse…

Torture Is Depraved and Ineffective, Part 2,397

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 7:52 PM EDT

Apparently, Ron Suskind's new book reports that the CIA tortured a mentally disturbed man who knew very little about al-Qaeda all so that the president didn't have to "lose face." Lucky for us, while under torture, Abu Zubaydah confessed to all manner of plots and schemes in every corner of the country and had law enforcement running around the country on various wild goose chases. Draw your own lessons from this little story.

Can't We Just Have a Moment of Silence?

| Tue Jun. 20, 2006 4:39 PM EDT

This is awful. And doesn't it seem... unseemly somehow to jump on the deaths as instant debate fodder?