In the 1970s, an antiwar demonstrator found himself at New York City’s Rikers Island jail facility for a couple of months on a disorderly conduct charge. The demonstrator, who happened to be a friend of mine, met a handful of young men from the Bronx in his unit who were deaf.

They were having trouble communicating with anyone but themselves. My friend knew a little sign language and, after a few conversations, discovered they were illiterate. With the idea of helping them improve their communication skills, he asked prison authorities for permission to order books on sign language from the publisher. The wardens refused, saying that they did not want anyone in that prison using a “language” they could not understand.

Things may have changed a little for the better since then. But not by much.

I first wrote about the deaf in the late 1960s in the New Republic and so I know something of the background which is what really informs this article. While researching stories about solitary confinement at Angola Prison for Mother Jones, I came upon an article in Prison Legal News about widespread violations against deaf prisoners. Remembering the people and culture I had caught a glimpse of in the 60s, I got in touch with the article’s author, McCay Vernon. Luckily he remembered my earlier writing, and promptly agreed to help me.

The letters quoted below are from deaf prisoners to different people in the free world, who are seeking to help them, to advocate their cause. I have disguised the advocates, prisoners and prisons to keep the inmates from getting reprisals—reprisals which they fear on a daily basis. You have to remember that a deaf person can’t hear the chatter among other inmates, can’t hear the person sneaking up behind, is unintelligible in his cries for help during a rape.

After Rio beat out Chicago for the 2016 Olympics games—despite President Barack Obama's up-close-and-personal intervention—I asked Andrew Jennings, a British journalist who has spent years investigating the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and digging up much dirt on its members and practices, for his reaction. He didn't hold back:

Serve you right, suckers! Allowing yourselves to be judged by a bunch of third-rate nobodies and C-list European royalty [on the IOC] who care more about their comfort than the dreams of the athletes.
 
How can you do business with an organisation that has 106 members – only 16 are women?
 
Could it be that corruption in Brazilian sport and society is rampant – and offers all kinds of opportunities to screw the multi-billion dollar budget?
 
Chicago has a bad reputation for corruption – but at least a lot of the malefactors get caught and go to jail. That is not an Olympic dream at the IOC. At the BBC a few years ago, we did a sting on an IOC member with hidden cameras and taped him asking for a bribe. They are now very wary where they go.
 
We all know the Feds do stings – good bye Windy City.
 
The good news is that Madrid’s loss shows the diminishing influence of the IOC’s last president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. He was IOC president from 1980 to 2001 and gave the games to Beijing. Perhaps that was because he felt at ease with the media restrictions – similar to the Franco regime he served for 37 years, right arm always in the air.
 
When the fuss dies down – perhaps we can investigate and see if bribes were paid? They always were – the delicious bit being that members would trouser the kickback and vote for a rival candidate.

That certainly puts today's news in a different perspective.
 
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
 
 

Out of Work

There are lots of different measures of unemployment.  One of the best and most consistent is the civilian employment-population ratio, which shows the percentage of the workforce currently employed.  The series below, from the St. Louis Fed, shows this measure for the past 60 years and it highlights just how bad our current recession is.  Here's the drop in the ratio in past recessions, measured in percentage points from peak to trough:

• 1948 — 2.2%
• 1953 — 3.1%
• 1958 — 2.5%
• 1960 — 1.4%
• 1969 — 1.9%
• 1974 — 2.4%
• 1979 — 3.0%
• 1990 — 2.0%
• 2000 — 2.7%

The worst recession of the past half century, the 1980-82 double dip, produced a drop of only 3.0 percentage points.  I don't think anybody has ever used the modifier "only" to describe that recession before, but it fits now: the current recession has produced a drop of 4.6 percentage points so far.  That's double the postwar average.  The drop from the previous peak in 2000 is 5.9 percentage points.  So far.  The job scene is simply devastating right now.  More from Andrew Samwick here and Brad DeLong here.

The latest Pew poll finds that Americans are now split evenly on their opinion of abortion rights.* In an August survey 45% of respondents said they thought abortion should be illegal in all/most cases, 47% said legal. Last year same time those numbers were 41% and 54%, respectively. Whether these numbers match up to similar polls or not, the fact that the same language was used year-to-year by Pew means the data is worth noting. Yes, it's a high bar that the respondent has to agree with the all/most cases assertion, but they also had to agree with it last year and the years before that.

As this graph shows, at least according to Pew measures, support for abortion is at its lowest since 1995, opposition near its highest. That people are more entrenched in their position after a hot election year and that conservatives are feeling defensive with a progressive in the White House who's already appointed a Supreme Court Justice, these numbers are not all that surprising, if discouraging.

The survey also asked how critical people feel abortion is as a political issue. In 2006, 28% of respondents said abortion was a critical issue, in August just about half as many felt that way, 15%. These days #hcr and #climate are more the rage, and there is plenty else to get up in arms about. Still, it seems that conservatives can manage more pots on the stove; they can rally against finance reform, health care reform, Obama, et al and still keep up an effective fight against what might be secondary issues like abortion. Progressives are way too disorganized to handle such maneuvering.

 

*The addition of "rights" is mine. Pew asked if people are in support of legal abortions. Saying, do you support abortion, versus, do you support the right for a woman to choose is a very different question. As Kevin Drum points out, survey design is notoriously sensitive particularly when it comes to abortion.

Happy Friday, folks. A sampling of health and environment news on our other blogs:

Abortion support declining? A new Pew poll says yes, but ABC's polling director doubts it.

Keep on the sunny side: Don't worry about global warming, says the US Chamber of Commerce. After all, humans are now less vulnerable to rising temperatures because of the growing use of air conditioners. Right.

Changes to Kerry-Boxer: Gone are any mention of China and India in the latest version of climate bill.

More Chamber unease: GE is the latest company to disapprove of the US Chamber of Commerce's stance on climate change.

Charting public health-care opinion: Bottom line: the public really likes the idea of having a choice between a private and a public health insurance plan.

Opt-out revolution? One in four moms stay home. Proof that women ditch their fulfilling and high-paying careers once it's baby time?

Republicans know they don't like Kerry-Boxer: They just can't figure out why. The party is divided between those who think action will destroy the economy and those who still question whether climate change is occurring at all.

The NSF's porn problem: The National Science Foundation handles twenty percent of all federally supported research in all American colleges. Some of its employees are having a grand old time surfing sex sites. Way more fun than reviewing grant applications.

Climate change crystal ball: What does prediction guru Bueno de Mesquita think about the odds of getting any kind of serious global action on climate change?

After losing several high-profile members over its climate policy, the US Chamber of Commerce spent much of this week attempting to convince the public that it does believe global warming is a serious concern that Congress should act upon. But in comments recently submitted by the group to the Environmental Protection Agency, the group advanced a very different view. In its submission, the Chamber questioned the science behind the phenomenon of climate change, suggested that humans are now less vulnerable to rising temperatures because of the growing use of air conditioners—and theorized that even if the planet is getting warmer, that might be a good thing.

The Chamber's comment was submitted to the EPA on June 23 in response to the agency's finding in April that carbon dioxide is a hazard to human health. The 86-page document is packed with claims that cast doubt on that conclusion. An excerpt:

The Administrator has thus ignored analyses that show that a warming of even 3 [degrees] C in the next 100 years would, on balance, be beneficial to humans because the reduction of wintertime mortality/morbidity would be several times larger than the increase in summertime heat stress- related mortality/morbidity.

 

In a stunning upset, Chicago was the very first city eliminated this morning from voting to host the 2016 Olympics.  Reaction from The Corner:

Ponnuru: Chicago is out of contention....But I'm sure that Obama will be a lot more persuasive with the Iranians.

Miller: Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can't work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?

Lowry: We Can Take Some Comfort....in this distressing hour that the Iranians, Russians, Chinese et al. are push-overs compared to the International Olympic Committee. Right?

You know times are tough when the NR gang all have to use the same gag writer to produce their lame jokes.  Of course, the real loser in all this is Oprah, but I notice that none of these guys has the guts to take her on.  Probably wise thinking.

Here's your morning healthcare roundup.  First up is Bruce Bartlett, who, after a long technical explanation about how Medicare premiums work, summarizes a recent roll call on a bill that blew yet another hole in the deficit by preventing a scheduled premium increase even for very wealthy seniors:

The main people affected by this situation are those with high incomes for whom paying $6 to $16 a month extra can hardly be considered burdensome.... Interestingly, the only representative willing to speak against this unjustified give-away was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.....Even many of the Congress' strongest budget hawks were AWOL in this case. Among those voting for it were right-wing heroes Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Nor was I able to find anything about this legislation on the Web sites of various conservative think tanks.

No surprise here.  A few months ago conservatives decided that reining in spending was good for townhall speeches, but nothing to actually be taken seriously.  Much better to have a campaign issue against Democrats.

Reading on, here's a Bloomberg story about some real socialized medicine:

After serving in Vietnam and spending three decades in the U.S. Navy, [Rick] Tanner retired in 1991 with a bad knee and high blood pressure. He enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration and now benefits from comprehensive treatment with few co-payments and an electronic records system more advanced than almost anywhere at private hospitals.

“The care is superb,” said Tanner, 66, a San Diego resident who visits the veterans medical center in La Jolla, California, and a clinic in nearby Mission Valley. The record- keeping, he said, is “state of the art.”

....The system is a larger enterprise than that envisioned for the so-called public option being considered by Congress, where the government would run a nonprofit insurer as an alternative to the private industry, not provide care. That hasn’t stopped opponents such as House Republican leader John Boehner from warning that President Barack Obama favors “government-run health care,” a criticism that bothers many veterans.

“I really get annoyed every time I hear these talking heads talking about ‘the government can’t run anything,’” said John Rowan, 64, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, who visits a New York clinic for complications from contact with the chemical Agent Orange. “Most veterans would give it a fairly good rating.”

Like they say, read the whole thing.  And finally, here's Kirk Nielsen on the cost of a single night at the hospital after feeling some chest pains:

The doc soon arrived, said my heart was fine and handed me an instruction sheet with two recommendations: ibuprofen or Tylenol, and antacids. Who knew? Gastroesophageal phenomena can cause dull, throbbing pains above your heart and make your left hand feel cold and tingly. Better safe than sorry.

And who knew that all of this costs only $4,712?

As it turned out, Nielsen was fine.  But considering the cost (his share was about $1,000), I wonder if he'll have second thoughts about heading to the emergency room the next time something like this happens?  Should he?

For much of this past week, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has been fielding a flow of questions about the Afghanistan war—especially queries about the three-hour pow-wow President Barack Obama held with his entire national security team on Wednesday to discuss the road ahead in Afghanistan. At Thursday's daily briefing, Gibbs wouldn't say much about what had been discussed in the Situation Room during that meeting. "The President got a chance yesterday to hear from—a robust discussion with the intelligence community and robust discussion with military and diplomatic advisors," he said, using routine press secretary-speak.

Gibbs did note that there had been no discussion about sending more troops. But he didn't say anything about the debate now underway in the administration between those who support the call of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for expanding the war effort there into a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation with more troops (which would entail building up the Afghan government and military to defeat the Taliban), and those who favor a more narrow approach focused on counter-terrorism (which would mainly target al Qaeda). But Gibbs did signal what might become an exit strategy—or an exit excuse—for the Obama administration.

After pursuing--and nailing--Van Jones and Yosi Sergant, the right-wing hit squad is now after Kevin Jennings, a Department of Education official in charge of the safe and drug-free schools. They claim Jennings aided and abetted statutory rape.

In his DailyPolitics.com column, David Corn reviews this latest conservative crusade. He writes:

So what did Jennings do?

In a 1994 book, he recounted his experience as an in-the-closet gay teacher at a private school, and he described a 1988 episode in which a male high school sophomore confided to him his involvement with an older man. Jennings was 24 years old then, and as he wrote, "I listened, sympathized, and offered advice. He left my office with a smile on his face that I would see every time I saw him on the campus for the next two years, until he graduated."

In a 2000 talk to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which Jennings had started, he recalled that this student had been 15 years old, had met the older man in a bus station bathroom--for that was the only way he knew how to meet gay people--and that he (Jennings) had told him, "I hope you knew to use a condom." Jennings' best friend had died of AIDS the week before his chat with the student. According to Jennings, the student replied, "Why should I? My life isn't worth saving anyway."

The right is vilifying Jennings because he didn't tell the student's parents or the authorities that this closeted gay student was having sex with an older man. That is, he didn't out this student, who was clearly troubled by his inability to be open about his sexual orientation.

Corn notes that this was not a black-and-white situation:

In 1988, it was harder to be gay than it is today--especially for a teacher and an adolescent. Conservatives who oppose gay rights generally don't display much sympathy for people who have to keep their homosexuality hidden--and don't show much concern for how that affects their lives. But I can imagine the difficult situation both Jennings and the student were in. The student needed a confidante, and Jennings had to worry about the students well-being, which included protecting his secret. (Had there not been so much anti-gay prejudice, of course, the two would not have been in these respective positions.) It's possible that Jennings helped save the kid's life by encouraging him to think about condoms. It's possible that outing the student may have led to terrible consequences. There's no telling. But only someone blinded by ideology would refuse to recognize that Jennings was contending with thorny circumstances. Perhaps he didn't make the right decision. It was a tough call. But the go-for-his-throat campaign being waged against Jennings is mean-spirited and fueled by an any-means-necessary partisanship.

In response to the right-wing bleating, Jennings has released a statement saying that he can now see "how I should have handled this situation differently I should have asked for more information and consulted legal or medical authorities. Teachers back then had little training and guidance about this kind of thing." And Education Secretary Arne Duncan has stated his support of Jennings: "He is uniquely qualified for his job and I'm honored to have him on our team."

The question is, will the White House back Duncan and Jennings on this? Or will the attack dogs of the right gain another bloody prize?

UPDATE: Media Matters reports that it has obtained a copy of the driver's license of the student and that it shows the student was 16 years old at the time of this incident. The liberal media watchdog group has posted a redacted copy of the license here.

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