Friday, February 02, 2007

Limbaugh and the 'cockroaches'

Rush Limbaugh's record of eliminationist hits will be impossible to top in any event, but he keeps trying to top them anyway. The latest, from his broadcast today:
Yeah, we can dam a river and do all this sort of thing, but to actually affect the systems that keep the earth here, in whatever form, even if there are nuclear detonations left and right, life somewhere, somehow, will survive, and the whole process will begin again. We may not, cockroaches will. That means some liberals will.

Rhetoric in which one compares a target group to vermin is, of course, eliminationist rhetoric incarnate. And it's not surprising we're hearing it all the time: guys like Limbaugh have made it seem almost ordinary.

After awhile, acting on it will become ordinary too.

[Hat tip to Jason.]

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Montana Joins The Rebel Alliance

by Sara

Via Hunter at Random, we learn that Montana's joined the fight against Real ID. Yesterday, their legislature voted -- almost unanimously -- in favor of two bills that expressed the state's intention to defy the act.

Dan Testa of New West Missoula tells us about it:
Applause broke out in the House today after lawmakers passed the second of two bills to deny and nullify a Federal Law which increases the restrictions placed on drivers licenses.

House Bill 287, by Rep. Brady Wiseman, D-Bozeman, denies the implementation of the Federal ID Act. The bill passed with a 99-1 vote.

“Tell the nation, in no uncertain terms, that Congress has made a mistake,” Wiseman urged lawmakers, adding that he had committments from about 24 other state legislatures to consider similar legislation.

Immediately after, House Bill 384 passed with a 100-0 vote. Sponsored by, Rep. Diane Rice, R-Harrison, the bill nullifies the Real ID Law, which would require Montanans to give a minimum standard of proof of residency before getting a driver’s license.

Speaking in heated tones to her colleagues, Rep. Deborah Kottel, D-Great Falls said she hoped these votes would send a strong message to the rest of the nation.

“I hope this bill goes to the US Supreme Court,” Kottel said, “to protect us from the abuses of the federal government when it over-reaches itself.”
Thomas Frank, reporting in USA Today, notes that six other states -- Hawaii, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont and Washington -- also have active bills that will be coming up for votes soon. He quotes Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU, who thinks that "If one state says no, or another state follows Maine, the whole house of cards collapses" -- and points out that having a Democratic Congress makes that more likely, since the Democrats of the 109th (to their credit) didn't give the bill much support the first time around.

More as it happens. If you haven't called your state legislators on this, now would be a good time.

And They'll Know We Are Traitors By Our RFIDs

by Sara

The always-insightful Trefayne wrote something on the Real ID thread below that was simply too good to leave buried down there at Comment #43. Here's his description of just how the Real ID database might be used against anyone who disagrees with anyone in power -- and to drive the point home, he names names:
There are plenty of U.S. fascists, proto-fascists, and pseudo-fascists who are not currently in office. If these private authoritarian forces ever came to greater power (for example, by election, appointment, or the creation of private intelligence agencies, private armies, or paramilitaries), I expect that they wouldn't mind having access to very-detailed databases and mandatory "papers" that would be even more invasive than Real ID. Heck, how do we keep the currently-recorded data from being leaked to these folks now?

Looking at a person's personal data can help a political street-thug or budding dictator identify the opposition. Remember, they don't have to kill us all. As Ann Coulter pointed out, you only need to harm a few to intimidate the rest.

You could use various forms of identification to tag immigrants, dissidents, particular ethnic groups, former Gulag prisoners, and other "risk groups". (see here) Deny them jobs and bank accounts, limit their residence and travel to certain areas (see here), force them to pay arbitrary spot-fines that no one else has to pay, etcetera. Basically make them so miserable they have to learn their "place" or leave the Mother-/Father-/Homeland. That is, of course, if they are allowed to.

(Remember that passports were revived around World War One to keep potential soldiers and other useful people from leaving their home countries. Even now you can't emigrate from the United States without a letter of clearance from the FBI. What if they say, "No, he's more of a threat to The Leader if he can speak freely abroad. We'll keep him here, thanks.")

Don't think there are any "populists" who would love to have this kind of power? Think again:
Jim Gilchrist
Bo Gritz
Patrick Buchanan
Samuel Francis
Lyndon LaRouche

Hey, while we're at it, let's add RFID chips to each card, so you can scan people from a few feet away. It makes it easier for the political beat-cops to find the right people to harrass in the street. (see here).

You could mine the data to see who belongs to the right churches. In fact, you could put a little code or symbol on the card to indicate what someone's religion is. Connect the travel records with the spending profile to see who is showing up at church AND financially supporting it.

R.J. Rushdoony
Gary North

You could indicate the person's race and religion on the card or in the database. Who needs yellow stars or colored triangles? The card will tell you how (or if) to treat potential customers and subjects, er, citizens.

Tom Metzger
William L. Pierce
David Duke
Willis Carto
Don Black

Ultimately, this kind of snooping makes it easier to figure out who to kill or intimidate.

Timothy McVeigh
Eric Rudolph
William Krar
Demetrius Van Crocker

If you want to catch up with what this blog is about, read Dave Neiwert's "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" (see here). Fascist tendencies are a problem in this country, a genuine threat, and not one limited to the Cheney Regime. (And those Democrats you mentioned may be fools, but I don't think they're fascists.) If you really do believe in liberty _for everyone_ (and no special rights for men, for whites, for straight people, for Christians, etcetera) we'll be happy to have you join us in our fight against the authoritarian and totalitarian forces in our midst.
Nicely done.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly's Gone

by Sara
One of the things I was always going to do someday was take one of The Nation's annual cruises. There are a lot of good reasons to do this, even if you're not among the cruise-inclined (and I'm definitely not). But for me, the chance to sit around a table, just for one evening, and listen to Molly Ivins hold forth would have been worth the cost of the trip.

Life intervened. Next year came and went, for too many years. Kids, house, you know how it is -- there was never the money or time for such an adventure. And now it's never going to happen, because Molly died today.

I've been telling people for 15 years that I wanted to be Molly Ivins when I grew up. She herself used to say that it didn't have much to do with her -- when you're writing about Texas politics, all you have to do is just write down what happened, and the humor takes care of itself -- but that wasn't quite so, and we all knew it. Molly had that sugar-and-vinegar combination of a merciless eye and a generous heart that's characterized all our best humorists from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart. She loved us unabashedly for our best selves (her Fourth of July columns were always twisted but sincere love letters to America); but also loved us too much to let us get away with being our worst selves. Bill Clinton, who caught his share of both sides of Molly, once said that "she was good when she praised me...and painfully good when she criticized me."

In the last year, perhaps as she realized that the third battle against breast cancer would be her last, her columns took a tone for the serious and urgent. Her second-to-the-last column was a call to action against a president who "does not have the sense God gave a duck," and the Congress that has yet to stand up to him. She was furious, polemical, and no longer coating her frustration with the honey of her humor:
We don't know why George W. Bush is just standing there like a frozen rabbit, but it's time we found out. The fact is that WE have to do something about it. This country is being torn apart by an evil and unnecessary war, and it has to be stopped. NOW.

This war is being prosecuted in our names, with our money, with our blood, against our will. Polls consistently show that less than 30 percent of the people want to maintain current troop levels. It is obscene and wrong for the president to go against the people in this fashion. And it's doubly wrong for him to increase U.S. troop levels in this hellhole by up to 20,000, as he reportedly will soon announce.

What happened to the nation that never tortured? The nation that wasn't supposed to start wars of choice? The nation that respected human rights and life? A nation that from the beginning was against tyranny?

Where have we gone? How did we let these people take us there? How did we let them fool us?
Nope. Definitely unfunny. But these are unfunny times, and our only Molly was never one to sugar-coat an ugly truth.

In these days of Stewart and Colbert and Olbermann (and The General and The Rude One, too), it's hard to remember that there was a time, just a decade or two ago, when Molly was pretty much the only funny progressive in America. She understood, long before the rest of us, the power of laughter -- the way mocking your enemies bursts their pretentions, and shrinks them down to a manageable size. Covering Texas politics all those years, she'd seen the right wing in all their flaming glory. They were scary -- she granted us that -- but, as she reminded us twice a week, they were also idiots. When Dubya went to Washington, she was on hand to tell tales out of school about him. Since she'd known him since high school, she could do that.

So the cruise ship sails from Seattle this year -- this time, without Molly on board. And we're going to have to carry on the struggle for America without her, too -- and you can bet it's going to be a hell of a lot longer and darker without that six-foot redhead with the booming voice lightening our hearts and steps for the journey. In the last paragraph of her very last column, written just ten days before she died, she sent us a benediction, with instructions for how she'd like us to carry on:
We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"
If we believe in ourselves half as much as Molly believed in us, we're going to be OK.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Maine to Congress: Real ID? Get Real.

by Sara

We all know that whenever the 109th Congress was faced between a choice between fear and common sense, common sense was always the loser by a knockout. One of the greatest monuments to their casual relationship with reality has to be the federal Real ID act -- a Congressional done deal that's going to have all 300 million of us tagged for surveillance like feedlot beef within the next few years.

Real ID gives the states until May 2008 -- just 15 months -- to rework their driver's licenses into scannable, forgery-proof cards full of embedded personal information about the bearer. Those applying for the card will be required to present a Social Security card, a birth certificate, proof of residency (like a recent utility bill), and another photo ID of some sort, like a passport or employer ID. All the provided information, along with your fingerprints and other government records (criminal records, property ownership, etc.) goes into a digital database that will be readily accessible to federal, state, and local government employees in the course of their jobs.

While this database isn't likely to make us any safer from terrorists, it's going to open up vast new career vistas for would-be identity thieves -- and put millions of government employees directly in the path of that temptation. And God help you if you can't summon the required documents. Say you live with your parents or kids, or are transient, and thus don't have a utility bill in your own name. Say you don't have a job or a passport, and therefore can't provide a picture ID. Say you lost your birth certificate in, oh, maybe a flood, along with all the rest of your life's records. (It happens.)

If you can't pony up the documents, the Know-Nothing 109th reasoned, you must be a terrorist. (Except, of course, that the actual 9/11 terrorists went out of their way to create just such paper trails for themselves, and thus would have had no problem getting their Real ID cards.) On that senseless presumption, the Real ID law mandates that, in very short order, nobody will be able to board an airplane or enter a federal government building without a verified ID card in hand. (Banning people from government buildings -- yeah, there's a way to increase compliance with all sorts of laws.) Odds are good your bank won't be having anything more to do with you, either.

The discussions over whether and how to implement Real ID are also prompting almost every state to take a second look at how they deal with issuing official documents to illegal immigrants. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is tracking state reactions to Real ID, the law does allow states to issue "non-conforming" drivers licenses -- license that grant the right to drive, but may not be used as verified ID as defined by Real ID. Those who can't summon the full set of documentation can still become licensed drivers and buy insurance; but they can't use their license to verify identity for other purposes. These non-conforming licenses are usually prominently flagged, identifying the bearer as, well, unreal.

The states, as you might imagine, are not happy with this huge new unfunded mandate. Stacey A. Anderson, writing in the Los Angeles Times, reports that "Congress initially appropriated $100 million to put the system in place nationwide, but officials in Maine estimated that the program could cost $185 million in that state alone. The National Conference of State Legislatures has put the nationwide cost of implementation at about $11 billion."

The Rebel Alliance is forming -- and has begun to strike back. Last Thursday, Maine's legislature fired the first shot over the bow, telling Congress point-blank just where they could stick the whole idiotic idea. According to the Times, both houses voted -- unanimously in the Senate and 137 to 4 in the House -- to reject the act wholesale. They're also formally asking Congress to repeal Real ID. The ACLU confirms that several other states, including Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Washington, may soon fall in behind Maine's lead.

This is one of those rare situations where an important national civil liberties battle can successfully be fought at the state level. Given the short deadlines they're under, most states are going to be working out their policy responses to Real ID between now and this summer. Fortunately, it’s usually a lot easier to get the attention of a state legislator than it is to get through to a Congressperson -- so these people, in every state, need to be hearing loudly from us that Real ID is an unreal idea. It's going to be up to the individual states to hold the line, and refuse to cave in and do the dirty work of a federal government that has lost all sight of its own Constitutional boundaries.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Immigration: The bridge to extremism

Bill Berkowitz has been knocking out the home runs lately, including his analysis of Tom Tancredo's candidacy which wraps up with the main point of concern:
One of the most significant things that could emerge from Tancredo's campaign "is the further advancement of the anti-immigration infrastructure," Devin Burghart pointed out. "Much as we saw with the campaign of Pat Robertson in 1988 -- which led to the launching of the Christian Coalition -- the Tancredo run has the potential to create a more extensive national anti-immigrant political operation."

He has another piece for IPS titled Right and Left Ask, Who Would Jesus Deport?, which takes a look at the growing bridge between the fundamentalist right and the anti-immigration movement, embodied in the group Families First on Immigration:
[U]nlike the numerous religious organisations that have consistently supported undocumented workers and their families, Families First on Immigration is focused more on securing the U.S. borders and eliminating citizenship birthright than with the human rights of immigrants.

Under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, anyone born in the United States is a citizen -- a right Families First is waging an extremely uphill battle to overturn.

... Nearer the other side of the debate is Families First on Immigration, which earlier this month sent letters to President George W. Bush and to leaders of the new Democratic controlled Congress urging them "to adopt a grand compromise on the divisive issue that includes strong border security, an amnesty for illegals already here who are relatives of citizens and an end to birthright citizenship."

Families First on Immigration, which claims to be advancing what they call religiously grounded positions on immigration, has some very familiar names attached to it, including former Republican Party presidential hopeful Gary Bauer, who heads up a group called American Values; former Bush advisor to Catholic voters, Deal Hudson of the Morley Institute for Church & Culture; and Paul Weyrich, who is widely considered one of the founding fathers of the modern conservative movement and the head of the Free Congress Foundation.

"We weren't surprised that leaders of the religious right finally got into the game," Devin Burghart, the programme director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Chicago, Illinois-based Centre for New Community, told IPS. "The organisation is trying to stake out a more moderate position than the Minutemen and other extremist anti-immigration organisations, and it is using a religious frame to try and woo supporters."

"While the language the group is using is more moderate sounding -- touting a compromise solution to the problem -- its anti-immigrant positions are quite radical," Burghart added. "And although they claim to be in line with traditional religious teachings, they seem to be ignoring much of the Bible, particularly passages about welcoming strangers."

What's particularly noteworthy about FFI is its origins in the fever swamps of the Republican dirty-tricks department:
Families First on Immigration has been brought together by Manuel Miranda, a longtime conservative activist and the former judicial nominations counsel to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Owing to his participation in what was then dubbed "Memogate" -- Miranda was accused of stealing internal Democratic memos off a Judiciary Committee computer server -- in 2004, he "had one foot in the political graveyard," The Hill reported in November 2005.

A related Berkowitz piece at Media Transparency on Families First for Immigration has more details:
In 2004, Democrats "accused Miranda of stealing internal Democratic memos off a Judiciary Committee computer server," an act that several Republican senators called "improper after [Miranda] admitted to reading the memos, which a junior Republican Judiciary aide downloaded from the unsecured server."

Miranda claimed "that he had neither broken the law nor Senate rules by reading the memos, but key Republican Senators did not back him," The Hill reported.

Although it was reported that Miranda felt he had been "betrayed by Republicans," there were conservatives who stood by him, and "the American Conservative Union dubbed him 'an American hero' for bringing the memos to light."

Miranda formed the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters, a group that actively worked to have the Republican Senate leadership invoke the so-called "nuclear option," a parliamentary tactic aimed at stripping Senate Democrats of the right to filibuster judicial nominees. Miranda's coalition eventually grew to encompass some 200 conservative groups; later changing its name to the Third Branch Conference.

Miranda's work derailing the Miers nomination and advocating the "nuclear option" in the Senate won him near universal approval from conservative lobbying groups. It is curious that such a controversial ideologue would be the spokesperson for a group that claims to represent conciliation and compromise.

It's curious indeed, especially considering that the "compromise" they propose entails amending the Constitution and rendering moot the birthright portion of the 14th Amendment -- no doubt to eventually be followed, in due course, by the same amendment's equal-protection, which has been a bete noire for the extremist right almost as long the issue of birthright citizenship has (see particularly the recent discussion of Asian American immigration early in the 20th century).

Of course, it's also worth remembering, via Media Matters, that Miranda has a long record of mendacity:
In his September 21 column, Wall Street Journal columnist Manuel Miranda referred to "staff memos from [Sen.] Dick Durbin of Illinois, quoted by the Wall Street Journal in November 2003" as proof of a "Democratic smear campaign" against President Bush's judicial nominees. Miranda once again failed to disclose, however, that those Durbin memos are among the thousands of Democratic documents Miranda was accused of improperly accessing over an 18-month period starting in 2001 -- a scandal known as "Memogate." Some of those memos were leaked to conservative media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Dirty tricksters like Miranda -- and a whole generation of Karl Rove wannabees -- are as endemic to Republican politics as an inclination toward winking and nudging at extremism and racism. It's probably not surprising that they also often go hand in hand.

The concern over immigration becoming a venue for the increasing radicalization of "mainstream" movement conservatism has been around for some time, though it is rarely voiced in the halls of mainstream media. As Berkowitz notes in the IPS piece:
At the heart of the Families First on Immigration proposal is the elimination of birthright citizenship which conservative columnist and radio talk show host Jane Chastain has termed the United States' "dirty little secret."

The most abhorrent aspect of Families First on Immigration's agenda is the removal of birthright citizenship, said Devin Burghart. "It is an attack on civil rights in general and on the 14th amendment specifically, which is a cornerstone of our democracy."

According to Burghart, an activist/researcher who has been tracking developments around immigration for several years, Families First on Immigration "is hungry for new members and hopes to tap into a new funding stream. They saw how successful the Minuteman Political Action Committee was in raising money and they hope to strike while the iron is hot."

The organisation appears to be a "bridge group' said Burghart, "aimed at bridging the gap between the hard core anti-immigration movement and the religious right."

FFI's effort, incidentally, stands in direct contrast to a recent effort in Missouri to strike a genuine compromise and engage in a real debate:
Two state legislators from St. Louis County have introduced a resolution seeking public discussion on the best course for the nation's immigration policies and rejecting the extremism of anti-immigrant groups.

The resolution, introduced in the House by Rep. John L. Bowman, D-Normandy, and in the Senate by Sen. Joan Bray, D-Ladue, has the support of a new statewide coalition, the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates. The coalition is working for comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.

Coalition members include Manos Unidas, a faith-based advocacy and leadership group within the local Latino community operating from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Ferguson.

"We are clear that immigration is a national issue and a matter for Congress. We believe the passage of this resolution by the Missouri legislature can once again help our state to be the welcoming place where immigrants and refugees can pursue the American Dream," Bowman said in a news release on the resolution.

In September, Archbishop Raymond Burke wrote a pastoral letter reminding Catholics of their duty to welcome the stranger and of the Christian response in the debate.

"As Christians, no matter what may be our disagreements about specific aspects of the law on immigration, we must be united in obedience to the Word of God, which teaches us to receive the stranger into our midst as one of our own," he wrote.

He said the present legislation on immigration does not work and that there is a diversity of opinion on how the government should reform it in order to deal with unauthorized immigration.

A piecemeal approach with various laws on state and local levels is not the right approach, he said, because immigration legislation is best dealt with as a federal matter.

The resolution introduced in the House and Senate states that "tax-paying immigrants embody our Missouri values of hard work, faith and family. ... We reject the extremism of anti-immigrant groups that seek to use fear to confuse and divide our communities."

The resolution cites connections between many anti-immigrant groups and white nationalist organizations and calls for a unified voice against "their organized bigotry and dangerous vigilantism."

Now, thanks to faux "compromise" outfits like Families First for Immigration and figures like Tancredo, this bigotry is obtaining official sanction as well -- while serious efforts to confront immigration issues is shunted and ignored.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Letter from Soledad Prison

by Sara

The Sunday Rant this week comes from my younger brother, who is in jail again. Nothing surprising there, unfortunately -- he's spent a lot of time in California jails and prisons over the past 25 years, most of it on minor non-violent felonies of one kind or another, almost all related to drug problems and general bad attitude. This time, he'd been out for almost two years, and was picked up the week before Christmas on a parole violation. Word is we get him back again some time in September.

Last time around, he was in for over two years (his first major felony), much of which was spent at California's infamous Soledad Prison. (The photo above is of the fence at Lompoc, where he's also spent significant quality time.) Shortly before Thanksgiving 2004, he wrote our mom the following letter describing his life there. It's edited only for continuity and a bit of punctuation; the words are all his.

Dear Mom,

I received your letter yesterday, and I noticed you'd sent $ too. Thank you.

We are on lockdown status -- all of us. There was an incident in the hall outside my cell. An inmate was cut up pretty bad and nearly died out right in front of us. He was just left laying there for too long before help was summoned.

That was Wednesday. The investigation doesn't start until Monday, and lockdown will continue until they get a name. It's a very timely incident: COs [correction officers] get hazard pay until it is resolved. This close to the holidays, it only makes sense to put off the investigation as long as possible.

Your complaints about the new package restrictions are well warranted. However, it is only one wasp in the hive. There are lots and lots of other profitable ventures going on unbeknownst to the public.

Take money orders. State law P.C. 2085.5 states that mainline institutions must take 33% of all incoming inmate funds for "restitution." I guess I wasn't clear on that when I told you not to send more money. (Besides, [my wife] needs that money much more than I do. I'd rather she get it.)

This restitution is based on a mandatory $200 fine imposed on all convicted felons to become wards of the state. It's designed to compensate for another state law that guarantees $200 to inmates at release. It's called "gate money."

Another scam is the library. No, I don't get "points" [toward release or better conditions] for contributing to it -- I only feed the machine. Upon checking out a book, you sign a trust release for the amount of the book. These are processed every week. When a book isn't returned in seven days, you are charged for its full cost.

But availability to the library is only given every TWO weeks. I didn't know this, until I was charged for two. Both books were turned in at the next available date -- but too late to avoid paying for them. This way, one book will pay for itself over and over.

By the way, these books are ALL donated by inmates.

I was also charged for two T-shirts. I received them sleeveless, and was charged for destruction of state property. They'll go back to the laundry, and be re-issued to another inmate, who will be charged for them, too -- as was the person who got them before me. The shirts have cost me $15 apiece so far. They were made by inmates in Prison Industry Authority jobs.

So far, I've been charged $7.50 and $5.95 for books, $30 for the shirts, and $60 for restitution. I've haven't even tried being hit by medical yet....

Medical services are no longer free. You must pay for them before your appointment. If you have no money on your books, it's deducted from your gate money. If it exceeds your gate money, you are billed by the parole board. Failure to pay is a parole violation, and lands you back in [prison] for 90 days.

I have a friend [in a previous prison] who was given an appointment, charged for it, and stood in line for two hours at a time, two days a week, NINE times without getting to the doctor. He filled out another request to receive his medication (previously prescribed), and was charged again. He still had not received his medication when I left -- charged twice for medication he never got.

I thought if you wanted to put yourself in a position of an active role, you should know what you're up against. It's not wise for inmates to call attention to these injustices -- they follow you to your parole officer, and you are judged a troublemaker. So inmates do very little to resist the system the way it is. We all just want out, whatever it takes.

This current lockdown has little effect on me. I'm locked down 24/7 until I go before the classification board, anyway. I'm given 20 minutes every third day for a shower -- and THAT'S IT. But I'm relatively comfortable. I no longer wear that agitating orange suit. I'm in "blues" now.

I find it incredible the number of bunks I've occupied since the start. [He recounts eight bunk numbers at two prisons.]...and I'm not done moving yet!

I'd just as soon stay Level 3 if it's up to me. There are far less problems wtih the "well-seasoned" inmates (actually, "convicts") in Level 3. Level 1 is full of immature gang-bangin' punks with something to prove. They are "inmates." Cell living also keeps you more isolated from that than dorm living. It's much more like a home in Level 3. I'm going to ask to stay a Level 3 convict for my stay, but I don't think they'll let me. It's worth a try.

My cellie is a good guy. He's taking good care of me. He has a TV, radio, and coffee pot, and is very clean. It's a huge relief over [my last prison]. E is very smart, and funny too. We moved downstairs to a new cell the other day. He'd been in [the old one] for six years, so we are very occupied with remodeling the new cell. We sanded and waxed the floor, hung his shelves, concealed all the wiring with moulding made of rolled-up newspaper (which we can have now), and are getting ready to paint. E is having fun with it. He's teaching me a lot about how to cope with confined living. A good thing? For the time being, it is.

All in all, Soledad is a huge relief from [my last prison]. The food is exactly the same, though -- chicken, chicken, and chicken, four or five times a week. The portions are skimpy, which keeps us buying extra food at the canteen. Yet another profitable venture....

I can only receive embossed envelopes and money orders through the mail. All other items will be thrown out --- yeah, right. This is another scam. The list of allowable items changes from institution to institution, and no one is made aware of these things until after arrival. So things families may be used to sending to one prison are confiscated by another.

Oh, well. It's their world. I'm just living in it.

The real problem the California Correctional Officers Personnel Association. They're the driving force behind all of this. They're feeding at the public trough, and depleting funds at such a rate (while literally buying politicians their seats in state and local government) that the prison system must generate funds however it can. CCOPA is THE largest contributor to political campaigns in the state. It's a shame the public is kept in the dark about all these things. What goes on behind these walls is a dirty little secret.

The starting salary for correction officers is over $50,000 a year, not counting overtime or hazard pay. I heard a CO bragging about receiving an overtime check for $14,000. For one month. No kidding. Some people don't make that in a year.

My name has been butchered countless times by these supergeniuses -- just a hint about the quality of minds that are in control here. A couple of them obviously could not read, and others may have been misreading it on purpose. Upon correction, the most common response is, "Yeah. Whatever." I'm just a number and a commodity to them.

I'm not content to have these problems so neatly hidden from the people who are paying for it. It's not right that the taxpayers are kept from the truth. I'm a taxpayer, too, and I didn't know about this stuff until I got inside the fence. It's sugar-coated for the public. That's what I'm complaining about -- not so much the treatment, because I realize that I'm here to be punished. (And I feel punished, so in that regard, it works!)

Sure, we DO need prisons. Nobody knows -- I mean, really knows -- this better than I do. But it's the petty victimless crimes and the high rate of parolee returns that have accelerated the growth of the prison industry. Cute little names like "California Training Facility" ("CTF Soledad") don't help.

I'll be going to classification this week, maybe. I'll let you know what transpires. I'm thankful for the cellie I have now, and I hope everything else goes this well. I'm guessing about another six months of this, providing I get the credits the judge ordered.

Your loving son

There's nothing particularly frightening or violent in this letter. In fact, most of the complaints could easily be characterized as petty annoyances. Whining, even. After all, he's in jail, not vacationing on Maui.

But apart from all that, it's also a chronicle of specific dehumanizations that follow from a toxic culture of corruption that's permeated California's prison system. The corrections officers are conning the cons, arranging their lives around an endless series of scams that rip off both the taxpayers and the inmates. The CO's union is far and away the richest and most powerful union in the state; nobody gets to the governor's office without their generous support. And they've financed their lavish lobbying and campaign expenditures not only by working all the government angles, but also by bleeding convicts and their families through nickel-and-dime schemes like those described above.

Fortunately, Arnie's predecessor, Gray Davis, was especially and notoriously beholden to the union -- and since they backed Davis in the recall election that put Der Gropenfuhrer in charge, Arnie became the first governor in memory to get to Sacramento without much help from CCOPA. That's given him the political leeway to take some strong steps over the last couple years to begin dismantling the chokehold of scam artists like the ones my brother describes. Hearings have been held. Policies have changed. Supervision has increased. This stuff still goes on, but my brother says it's getting slowly, perceptibly better.

The reform movement in California is part of a larger wave of momentum that's gathering force nationally as former inmates, their families, policy experts, and public officials take stock of the chaos and disorder produced by 30 years of conservative "law-and-order" detention policies. Alternet has an informative and though-provoking article about this movement that's especially worth a read.

Conservatives like to jeer at liberals over what they consider our inattention to unintended consequences -- but the toxic hash their narrow-minded ideology has made of America's prison system is the penultimate monument (after Iraq) to their own blind inability to connect cause and effect. When you consider the role California's prisons have played in bringing racial tension to the boiling point across LA (as documented in the SPLC report I discussed earlier this week), it's obvious that this is yet another area in which punitive, corrupt far-right policies -- most of them designed to shovel money into crony pockets, rather to provide actual correction and rehabilitation -- have been taken to their most venal and inhuman extremes, and created far more problems than they've solved.

US incarceration rates are far and away the highest in the world, with about 3% of our population under the supervision of the corrections system at any given moment. It's beyond time for us to reconsider just what America's $60 billion-a-year prison investment is buying us -- and start shopping elsewhere for better solutions.

D'Souza D'Liar

Dinesh D'Souza whines:
And in my recent appearance on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," I had to fend off the insistent host. "But you agree with the Islamic radicals, don't you?" Stephen Colbert asked again and again.

He certainly did ask it a couple of times, and D'Souza evaded him before saying:
Colbert: You have the courage to say that right, that you agree with some of the things that these radical extremists are against in America?...Do you agree with that statement?

Dinesh D'Souza: I agree with it.

D'Souza, of course, is clearly implying that he resisted Colbert's question, when in fact he rather abjectly copped to the point.

As Atrios suggests, the D'Souza piece is a masterpiece of mendacity, phony nonsense, and gross distortion. You know, like his books. F'r instance:
Bin Laden isn't upset because there are U.S. troops in Mecca, as liberals are fond of saying. (There are no U.S. troops in Mecca.)

No, liberals are fond of saying that Bin Laden is upset at the presence of U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia because it is the home of Mecca -- mainly because they were present there at the time of Al Qaeda's founding (namely, during the first Gulf War), and that presence remains permanent to this day. As Bin Laden humself put it:
In an interview bin Laden gave to CNN in 1997, he said the ongoing U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is an "occupation of the land of the holy places."

Indeed, it's clear that American military action and the heavy hand of its economic interests are the sectors of American society that are the source of his anger -- not gay marriage and bad Hollywood movies. This was clear from the choice of targets on Sept. 11 -- the World Trade Center, the vibrant center of American economic might, and the Pentagon, its center of military power.

Yet D'Souza sees it this way:
I pose a simple question: Why did the terrorists do it? In a 2003 statement, bin Laden said that to him, the World Trade Center resembled the idols that the prophet Muhammad removed from Mecca. In other words, bin Laden believes that the United States represents the pagan depravity that Muslims have a duty to resist.

Funny that D'Souza would assume that the "pagan depravity" that angers Muslims and radicalizes them has something to do with hip-hop music and the Oscars, when the only real "pagan depravity" that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon represents is the willingness of entrenched American powers to readily oppress and blithely murder thousands of Arabs in the sake of a nonexistent threat from "weapons of mass destruction."

He saves the best for last, of course, in describing how he rationalizes all the criticism his book has attracted:
But if a book says things that are obviously untrue and can be disproved, then it is not dangerous -- it is merely fiction and should be ignored. A book is dangerous only if it exposes something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden.

You know, the people who still promote The Protocols of the Seven Elders of Zion also believe that it exposes "something in the culture that some people are eager to keep hidden." Like D'Souza, they conveniently overlook the fact that their text attracts critics because it is a grotesque hoax, based on a lie and riddled with them, and its entire purpose is only to foment bigotry against a hated minority. Unfortunately, neither of them can be ignored, because a lot of stupid and gullible people will buy it and believe that it's true.

But then, it's obvious that this Hoover scholar lacks either the integrity or the intellect to acknowledge that sometimes, ferocious criticism is fully and deeply earned.