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CI: Conservative Criminal Justice Reform, A Look Through the Distorted Fun House Mirror

April 23, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Conservative Criminal Justice Reform, A Look Through the Distorted Fun House Mirror
by nancy a heitzeg, occasionally aided and abetted by Kay Whitlock

This week was awash in news of “criminal justice reform”. Some of these news items sparked real hope: efforts on the part of NY Governor Cuomo to budget for college classes for inmates, escalated calls for an end to mandatory minimums and solitary confinement, and news that President Obama is planning  to extend pardons to “hundreds, if not thousands” of non-violent offenders before he leaves office.

Occasionally billed as a “bipartisan” issue, the main thrust of most coverage, however, was on “conservative calls for criminal justice reform”. The Conservative Political Action Conference with Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, highlighted the issue, Chris Christie weighs in, and now even the Koch Brothers get in on the action with a panel billed as  “uniting left and right” and the “GOP’s best hope to reach minority voters”.

funhouseWhat has long been an under-current of right-wing policy advocacy is now emerging as a centerpiece of the upcoming 2014 and 2016 election seasons. The immediate image is of a kinder gentler non-obstructionist GOP who will continue to combat big government, reduce mass incarceration, and save taxpayers even $$$. A “reasonable” approach that capitalizes on a public opinion that increasingly rejects the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent offenders. An approach that presents Red States as the leaders in a reform movement that is “smart on crime”.

Look again.  It is a view from a distorting Fun House Mirror, another carnival sideshow that masks the reality of the “Right on Crime” agenda, which is most simply, more privatization. Privatization ensures that any possibility for public accountability vanishes. Further privatization of criminal justice serves to pave the way for expanded privatization of other public programs such  as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, food and nutrition assistance, and so on. Expect more of this in the upcoming months and years ahead.

Criminal InJustice has been exposing the under-lying agenda of the conservative calls for “reform” for quite some time.  We will continue to do so in more detail. For now, please, if you can, revisit:

We hope you will continue to ask the hard questions with us as calls for conservative criminal justice reform intensify.


Obama’s FY 2015 Budget Proposal Unsettling for Student Loan Borrowers

April 07, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Civil Rights, Consumer Rights, Economic Terrorism, Education, Student loan crisis

From Heather Jarvis:

On the one hand, the administration proposes to extend PAYE to all student borrowers starting in 2015, regardless of when they borrowed. That would be nice.

But the administration proposes sharply reducing the loan forgiveness available to high-debt student loan borrowers (except they refer to these cuts as “reform[ing] the PAYE terms to ensure that program benefits are targeted to the neediest borrowers.” The proposed “reforms” are a response to criticism arguing that existing forgiveness provisions permit already expensive schools to continue raising tuition with impunity.

Proposed changes include:

  • Eliminating the standard payment cap under PAYE;
  • Calculating payments for married borrowers filing separately on the combined household Adjusted Gross Income;
  • Capping Public Sector Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) at the aggregate loan limit for independent undergraduate students (currently $57,500);
  • Establishing a 25-year forgiveness period for borrowers with balances above the aggregate loan limit for independent undergraduate students;
  • Preventing payments made under non-income driven repayment plans from being applied toward PSLF;
  • and

  • Capping the amount of interest that can accrue when a borrower’s monthly payment is insufficient to cover the interest.

Find out more here.

Will proposed cuts to PSLF affect current borrowers?

CI: Animals Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law

March 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Animals Rights, Human Wrongs and the Limits of the Law
by nancy a heitzeg

For Inesperado ~

On March 19, 2014, Joe Drape and the New York Times published the following article, “PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses.” The trainers in question were Steve Asmussen, who is second in career victories and racing’s fifth all time $$ winner,, and his right hand man Scott Blasi. The complaints come as the result of an undercover investigation (with 7 hours of video) at Asmussen’s barns at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, and Saratoga Race Course in New York. PETA filed a 285 page complaint with both state agencies and federal authorities charging that Asmussen  “forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train.” Among the infractions documented in the video (PETA quoted and paraphrased below):

  • “Although it’s approved only as a prescription medication for horses with hypothyroidism, the drug thyroxine was being administered to many, if not all, horses in Asmussen’s New York stable, without any apparent testing or evidence of any thyroid condition. (This is the same drug linked to the death of 7 Bob Baffert – trained horses in a sixteen month period ). This drug was recklessly administered seemingly just to speed up metabolism—not for any therapeutic purpose.
  • Lasix—a controversial drug banned in Europe on race days—was injected into “basically all” of Asmussen’s horses who were being raced or timed in New York. A powerful drug meant to prevent pulmonary bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, Lasix is a diuretic that can serve as a masking agent for other drugs and also dehydrates horses to make them lose weight and run faster. One of New York State’s top horse-racing veterinarians admitted on camera to PETA’s investigator that Lasix is a performance-enhancing medication.
  • Horses’ legs showed multiple scars from being burned with liquid nitrogen―a process called freeze-firing―and burned with other irritating “blistering” chemicals, purportedly to stimulate blood flow to their sore legs.

  • Horses were also given muscle relaxants, sedatives, and other potent pharmaceuticals to be used for treating ailments such as ulcers, lameness, and inflammation, at times even when the animals had no apparent symptoms.
  • Some horses were reportedly electro-shocked with concealed buzzers. One of Asmussen’s trainers, Scott Blasi, jokingly called his top jockey, Ricardo Santana,  a “machine rider”―a nickname for riders who shock horses. And Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughed as he described how, at New Mexico’s Ruidoso Downs racetrack, it was like “a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one.”
  • Of particular note was the abuse suffered by Nehro, a horse that came in second in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. What race enthusiasts and reporters never knew was that just a few years later, Nehro was racing and training on chronically painful hooves with holes in them. One of the hooves was, at one point, held together with superglue…yet Nehro was kept on the track and forced to participate in workouts. Just two years after that Derby finish, Nehro developed colic and went mad from pain. He was euthanized at Churchill Downs on the day of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.”
  • PETA also accused Asmussen of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms and conspiring with Blasi to produce false identification documents, according to complaints filed with state and federal agencies.

In the immediate aftermath,  Scott Blasi has been fired by Asmussen Stables, and Asmussen himself was removed  as one of the finalists for the Racing Hall of Fame. Zayat Stables  (owners of Nehro) has terminated Steve Asmussen and moved all 12 of its horses that were previously in the trainer’s care. 3-year-old Finesse - ridden by Ricardo Santana and trained by Steve Asmussan – collapsed and died of an apparent “cardiac issue” on March 21 after finishing second in a race at Oaklawn. And, the New York State Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the New Mexico Racing Commissions have launched investigations. Demands increased again for federal oversight of horse-racing and the passage of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013 (Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2012). To be sure, more to follow.

For even causal observers of horse-racing, these revelations, however disturbing, were no surprise. Horse-racing is the USA is not the “sport of kings” but rather a marginalized meat-grinder industry which chews up both young and old horses at an alarming rate. It is a loosely regulated association of state “gaming” commissions with little Federal oversight, (and in fact, Federal exemptions to profit from  off-track and internet betting). an industry where serial dopers are Eclipse Award winners and mufti-millionaire breeders may neglect and starve their horses. U.S. horse racing is awash in drugs – both legal and otherwise. Lasix, steroids, Clenbuterol, cortisone, lidocaine, mevipacaine, EPO, cobra venom, “milk-shaking”/TCO2, amphetamines and vodka injections are just a partial listing of licit and banned substances used regularly in racing.

Mostly, it is an industry that kills off its’ athletes. Some of the dead are famous like the ill-fated Barbaro, Eight Belles who died in the dirt with two broken ankles after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Go For Wand, whose breakdown in the 1990 Breeder’s Cup Distaff was one racing’s most gruesome nationally televised moments. Most of the dead are lesser known – some former stakes horses, like Inesperado. that have fallen down through the claiming ranks, others are mere 2 year olds, and many are old geldings raced endlessly long past their prime. The majority of horses die in low level claiming races or during training with little fanfare and perhaps less remorse. They have inelegant names and ignominious ends like Private Details whose breakdown caused a 5 horse pile-up at Aqueduct or Mr. Smee, a five year old gelding who broke a hind leg, went through the rail and drown in the in-field lake at Lone Star Park.

For obvious reasons, there is little transparency here. The industry only recently began to collect and does still not regularly publish national fatality data, but an average of 24 horses suffer fatal breakdowns at tracks across the country every week, – more than 3 Dead per Day — and 10,000 broken-down thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter every year. (Please see the excellent New York Times investigation, Breakdown: Death and Disarray at America’s Race Tracks).

For jaded observers, questions remain as to whether or not this will finally finally finally — how many do you need? – be the wake-up call that leads to federal oversight and long needed horse-racing reforms. But no one is holding their breath. The truth of the matter is this – perhaps the harshest legal consequences to result from the ensuing investigations will be for the Federal  violations around use of undocumented workers and falsification of tax records. Even if the accusations of animal cruelty meet the legal bar (and they should), this case will most likely reveal again, that when it comes to animals, there are many limits to the law.


ObamaCare’s Employer Mandate is Delayed for Another Year Until 2016

February 19, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Tax Policy, Workers' Rights

From NYT:

The “employer mandate,” which was originally supposed to take effect last month, had already been delayed to Jan. 1, 2015, and now the administration says that employers with 50 to 99 employees will not have to comply until 2016 — allowing Democrats to placate business concerns and pushing the issue well beyond this year’s midterm elections.

In addition, the administration said the requirement would be put into effect gradually for employers with 100 or more employees. Employers in this category will need to offer coverage to 70 percent of full-time employees in 2015 and 95 percent in 2016 and later years, or they will be subject to tax penalties.

“Today’s final regulations phase in the standards to ensure that larger employers either offer quality affordable coverage or make an employer responsibility payment starting in 2015,” said Mark J. Mazur, the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy. The purpose of the penalty, he said, is to help offset the cost to taxpayers of providing coverage or subsidies to people who cannot get affordable health insurance at work.

Under the law, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees are generally exempt from the requirement to offer coverage.

The administration described the new policy as a form of “transition relief” to help employers adjust to requirements of the 2010 health care law.

What Really Happens When You Raise The Minimum Wage

February 18, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Workers' Rights

From ThinkProgress:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new report on Tuesday on the impacts of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and $9 an hour. It found that a $10.10 minimum wage, implemented by 2016, would mean higher earnings for 16.5 million workers, resulting in $31 billion more in higher earnings. It would also lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

But it also found that an increase would reduce jobs slightly. “Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent,” it projects. That figure takes into account what it says would be a decrease in jobs for low-wage workers as well as an increase of “a few tens of thousands of jobs” for others thanks to higher demand. “Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion,” it says. The vast majority of people impacted, over 95 percent, will be impacted positively.

It attributes the job losses to employers increasing prices to deal with the higher wage, which would lower demand and therefore their need for more workers, as well as to some employers substituting machines or technology for workers due to the higher cost of wages.

But businesses may respond to a higher minimum wage in other ways. In a paper for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, John Schmitt argues that they can benefit from improved efficiency and lower turnover. A higher wage may lead employers to push employees to work harder, which can be preferable to cutting hours or workers. In fact, the majority of fast food restaurants in Georgia and Alabama said they would respond to a minimum wage increase with higher performance standards. A higher wage can also make it easier to recruit and retain workers, which can improve the bottom line. Dealing with turnover can be costly: replacing someone can cost as much as 20 percent of her salary.

House Votes to Raise Debt Ceiling, Without Conditions

February 11, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Economic Terrorism

From NYT:

Ending three years of brinkmanship in which the threat of a devastating default was used to wring conservative concessions from President Obama, the House on Tuesday voted to raise the government’s borrowing limit until March 2015 – without any conditions.

The vote – 221-201 – relied primarily on Democrats to carry the legislation, the first debt ceiling increase since 2009 that was not attached to other measures. Only 28 Republicans voted yes. But it effectively ended a three-year, Tea Party-fueled era when a series of budget showdowns raised the threat of debt defaults and government shutdowns, rattled economic confidence and brought serious scrutiny from an international community questioning Washington’s ability to govern.

Such tactics came crashing down after last October’s government shutdown, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, emboldened by failure, appeared content to pass legislation with Democrats, daring the most conservative wing of his conference to make good on their grumbles that he should fail.

The Anti-Minimum-Wage Group Funding Those Minimum-Wage Studies

February 11, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Economic Terrorism, Poverty, Workers' Rights

Michael Saltsman, the Employment Policies Institute’s research director, late last month.
Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

From The NYT:

The Employment Policies Institute, founded two decades ago, is led by the advertising and public relations executive Richard B. Berman, who has made millions of dollars in Washington by taking up the causes of corporate America. He has repeatedly created official-sounding nonprofit groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom that have challenged limits like the ban on indoor smoking and the push to restrict calorie counts in fast foods.

In recent months, Mr. Berman’s firm has taken out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal andplastered a Metro station near the Capitol with advertisements, including one featuring a giant photograph of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is a proponent of the minimum wage increase, that read, “Teens Who Can’t Find a Job Should Blame Her.”

These messages, also promoted on websites operated by Mr. Berman’s firm, including, instruct anyone skeptical about the arguments to consult the reports prepared by the Employment Policies Institute, most often described only as a “nonprofit research organization.”

But the dividing line between the institute and Mr. Berman’s firm was difficult to discern during two visits last week to the eighth-floor office at 1090 Vermont Avenue, a building near the White House that is the headquarters for both.

The sign at the entrance is for Berman and Company, as the Employment Policies Institute has no employees of its own. Mr. Berman’s for-profit advertising firm, instead, “bills” the nonprofit institute for the services his employees provide to the institute. This arrangement effectively means that the nonprofit is a moneymaking venture for Mr. Berman, whose advertising firm was paid $1.1 million by the institute in 2012, according to its tax returns, or 44 percent of its total budget, with most of the rest of the money used to buy advertisements.

The Massive Progressive Protest You Didn’t Hear About This Weekend

February 10, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Education, Fourth Estate, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Tax Policy, Voting Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World, Workers' Rights

Credit: Planned Parenthood

From ThinkProgress:

Somewhere between 80 to 100,000 people from 32 states turned out to protest four years of drastic state Republican initiatives in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday.

The “Moral March on Raleigh,” organized by Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), marched from Shaw University to the state capitol to push back against the “immoral and unconstitutional policies” of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory during the 2013 NC General Assembly session. Since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers in 2010, legislators have eliminated a host of programs and raised taxes on the bottom 95 percent, repealed a tax credit for 900,000 working families, enforced voter suppression efforts, blocked Medicaid coverage, cut pre-Kindergarten funding, cut federal unemployment benefits, and gave itself the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits.

Activists have gathered at weekly protests, called ‘Moral Mondays,’ in North Carolina since 2013 as a way to give voice to individuals whose rights were under attack by the Republican-controlled legislature. While there were no reported arrests in Saturday’s protest, hundreds of nonviolent protesters were arrested during last year’s Moral Monday events.