Thursday, December 26, 2013

Debtors’ Prisons are Making a Comeback in America

December 26, 2013

Apparently having 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners simply isn’t good enough for neo-feudal America. No, we need to find more creative and archaic ways to wastefully, immorally and unconstitutionally incarcerate poor people. Welcome to the latest trend in the penal colony formerly known as America. Debtors’ prisons. A practice I thought had long since been deemed outdated (indeed it has been largely eradicated in the Western world with the exception of about 1/3 of U.S. states as well as Greece).

From Fox News:

As if out of a Charles Dickens novel, people struggling to pay overdue fines and fees associated with court costs for even the simplest traffic infractions are being thrown in jail across the United States.

Critics are calling the practice the new “debtors’ prison” — referring to the jails that flourished in the U.S. and Western Europe over 150 years ago. Before the time of bankruptcy laws and social safety nets, poor folks and ruined business owners were locked up until their debts were paid off.

Reforms eventually outlawed the practice. But groups like the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union say it’s been reborn in local courts which may not be aware it’s against the law to send indigent people to jail over unpaid fines and fees — or they just haven’t been called on it until now.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law released a “Tool Kit for Action” in 2012 that broke down the cost to municipalities to jail debtors in comparison with the amount of old debt it was collecting. It doesn’t look like a bargain. For example, according to the report, Mecklenburg County, N.C., collected $33,476 in debts in 2009, but spent $40,000 jailing 246 debtors — a loss of $6,524.
Don’t worry, I’m sure private prisons for debtors will soon spring up to make this practice a pillar of GDP growth.

Many jurisdictions have taken to hiring private collection/probation companies to go after debtors, giving them the authority to revoke probation and incarcerate if they can’t pay. Research into the practice has found that private companies impose their own additional surcharges. Some 15 private companies have emerged to run these services in the South, including the popular Judicial Correction Services (JCS).

In 2012, Circuit Judge Hub Harrington at Harpersville Municipal Court in Alabama shut down what he called the “debtors’ prison” process there, echoing complaints that private companies are only in it for the money. He cited JCS in part for sending indigent people to jail. Calling it a “judicially sanctioned extortion racket,” Harrington said many defendants were locked up on bogus failure-to-appear warrants, and slapped with more fines and fees as a result.

Repeated calls to JCS in Alabama and Georgia were not returned.

The ACLU found that seven out of 11 counties they studied were operating de facto debtors’ prisons, despite clear “constitutional and legislative prohibitions.” Some were worse than others. In the second half of 2012 in Huron County, 20 percent of arrests were for failure to pay fines. The Sandusky Municipal Court in Erie County jailed 75 people in a little more than a month during the summer of 2012. The ACLU says it costs upwards of $400 in Ohio to execute a warrant and $65 a night to jail people.

Mark Silverstein, a staff attorney at the Colorado ACLU, claimed judges in these courts never assess the defendants’ ability to pay before sentencing them to jail, which would be unconstitutional.

Full article here.

On a related note, I strong suggest everyone read the following article from The Atlantic called: I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System.

You’ll never see the “justice” system in the same light again.

An Infographic about Some Conspiracy Theories that Turned Out to be True

Now, even though this handful of conspiracy theories might have been true all along, this isn't an attempt by me at claiming all conspiracy theories are validated as a result. Quite the contrary: my interest in conspiracy theories is more toward the role of a spoiler or debunker, even though I really do find some of them to be fascinating. They make a boring world a little less boring merely by contemplating their validity. I happen to think a couple more of them are close to becoming the data to support another a similar infographic being posted in the future...

Major Food Manufacturers Push to Label Genetically Modified Products as “Natural”

Back to News
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Food manufacturers who use genetically modified (GMO) ingredients want permission from the federal government to stamp their products with the word “natural.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve their plan, which would mean any food containing GMO corn, sugar and other such ingredients could be sold as “natural.”

One advocacy organization, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), blasted the food companies’ proposal.

Scott Faber, vice president of the EWG, called the association’s request “audacious.”

“It’s like they’re trying to get the government to say night is day and black is white,” Faber told The New York Times.

The request comes as food manufacturers are increasingly under attack from opponents of GMO ingredients. At least 65 lawsuits are pending in various courts aimed at forcing companies to stop using the word “natural” to describe products with GMO elements.

PepsiCo settled one such lawsuit in August over its use of the phrases “All Natural,” “All Natural Fruit” and “Non-GMO” on bottles of Naked Juices. The company said it would remove “All Natural” from the drinks’ packaging and pay consumers $9 million.

However, PepsiCo will still use “non-GMO” on the juices, even though they are not certified as such.

Windows XP: When Microsoft Support for it ends in April, XP will become a Gateway for Hackers into All those XP Machines

Source: PC Pro
The final deadline for Windows XP support will act as a starting pistol for hackers, as they target hundreds of millions of users on unpatched systems.

Microsoft has already granted the 12-year-old OS several stays of execution, but the firm has said it will finally end extended support on 8 April 2014 – despite the fact that XP remains the second-most popular OS, with almost a third of PCs running it.

These hundreds of millions of desktops and laptops will be vulnerable to hackers once XP stops receiving security updates, with Microsoft warning earlier this year that hackers could use patches issued for Windows 7 or Windows 8 to scout for XP exploits.

“The very first month that Microsoft releases security updates for supported versions of Windows, attackers will reverse-engineer those updates, find the vulnerabilities and test Windows XP to see if it shares [them],” wrote Tim Rains, the director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group.

“If it does, attackers will attempt to develop exploit code that can take advantage of those vulnerabilities on Windows XP,” Rains added. “Since a security update will never become available for Windows XP to address these vulnerabilities, Windows XP will essentially have a zero-day vulnerability forever.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Year in Crazy (part 1)

Global Elites Getting Nervous About Skyrocketing Inequality...

...But Won't Spare a Nickel to Fix It

December 2013 | Alternet

Global elites are getting a bit antsy these days.

A new study by the World Economic Forum based on a survey of 1,592 leaders from academia, business, government, and the non-profit world suggests that all is not cheery at the top. It seems that elites believe that the second biggest problem facing Planet Earth in 2014 is widening income disparities (unrest in the Middle East and North Africa is their top worry). When it comes to economic issues, elites and ordinary folks are often at odds, but according to a recent Pew survey , they converge on identifying the gap between rich and poor as a major flaw in the system.

What’s clear is that the schemes elites have supported, from austerity policies to financial predation, are driving inequality to such extreme levels that everybody is now talking about it. The Pope is talking about it . Robert Reich made a movie about it. All over the world, people having been protesting and rioting in rolling demonstrations about it. An ugly resurgence of fascist elements in Europe is capitalizing on it. Even folks like Larry Summers, who promoted policies that stoke inequality, are publicly lamenting it.

The global elites are sittting on piles of obscene wealth, but they also have two big problems:
  1. Soft demand: When people are too poor to buy goods and services, businesses suffer and the whole economy lags.
  2. Prospects of increasing social unrest: When people are so squeezed that they think they have nothing to lose by taking to the streets, the wealthy have to hide behind barricades.

The global situation is crazy and probably unstable, and the 0.01 percent knows it. The question is, what are they prepared to do about it?

Not much — not yet, anyway. You can peruse the top mainstream newspapers to get a sense of how most elites feel about the growing gap between haves and have-nots. Lately there’s been quite a bit of handwringing and an uptick of articles on subjects directly related to inequality, but precious few signs that any substantial changes are on the horizon.

Case in point: Just after Thanksgiving, New York Times readers found a moving article  in the business section detailing the plight of unfortunate retail workers who don’t get paid enough to make ends meet. The author noted the hardship of food stamp cuts and described a situation so bad that companies had set up food drives for low-wage workers and dispensed tips on how to apply for public assistance (independent websites like AlterNet had been all over this story for weeks).

For a human touch, the NYT author quoted a depressed mom who works at Sears selling toys that she could never afford to buy for her own children. The author duly noted that Americans support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming majority, but in typical mainstream media fashion, took a stance of faux neutrality and provided the opinions of two mainstream economists who disagreed on whether raising minimum wage was a good idea or not. Overall, the article seemed cautiously in favor of something that American voters overwhelmingly say they want.

Conclusion: Some elites might be willing to raise the minimum wage just a bit.

But a couple of weeks earlier, the Washington Post ran a widely reviled editorial on Social Security that showed the limits of elite concern. The vast majority of Americans, aware of an oncoming train wreck of a retirement crisis, are against cuts to Social Security, but the editorial board at the Post made it clear that elites are not on their side and laid out various specious arguments, including an irrational appeal to deficit hysteria (the deficit is actually decreasing ), to bolster its antisocial perspective. Elizabeth Warren, increasingly a thorn in the side of greedy elites, blasted the Post.

Conclusion: Elites are not really willing to pay taxes, and financiers wish to charge more fees on private retirement accounts, ergo Social Security must be cut. (Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of Obama’s Deficit Commission, are the standard-bearers for this line, along with their backer, Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson.)

You can also look to top establishment politicians for insight into just how much elites are willing to do to solve the inequality problem.

For instance, there’s the little matter of a giant loophole in the tax code that favors the rich. The “carried interest” loophole allows financiers like hedge fund managers, venture capitalists and partners in real estate investment trusts to pay a lower tax rate on their profits than working people pay on their earnings. It’s an unjust handout to the wealthy, and again, the American people are clear on how they feel about the tax code : the rich don’t pay their fair share.

The GOP is vehemently against closing the loophole. But despite the fact that Democrats raged against it last year to defeat Mitt Romney, it is Dems themselves who are standing in the way of getting anything done. As the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, Democrats are worried that “crusading against the ‘carried interest’ loophole at this stage would inflame an important source of campaign contributions for Democrats.”

Back when he was in the Senate, John Kerry did an elaborate dance around the issue, using his influential post on the Senate Finance Committee to seed skepticism and parrot industry warnings of dire “unintended consequences’’ and unnamed risks to the economy if the loophole were closed, even while voting in favor of the change. With Kerry now at the helm of the State Department, a host of other prominent Democrats, including President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer, have been quietly working to see that nothing much will be done.

Conclusion: Filling campaign coffers is more important than dealing with grossly unfair policies that contribute to dangerous inequality.

So there you have it. Global elites know that they have a vital interest in solving the problem of inequality, but few are willing to pay a dime or accept substantive changes to our economic system in order to solve it.

Perhaps the megarich will simply take shelter in armed and gated communities and continue to thumb their noses at the 99 percent until a mass movement rises to stop them. But many have a vague recollection of what happened in the French Revolution. At a certain point, the barricades don’t hold.