Keeping Sex Offenders Imprisoned After Their Sentences End

I have written a number of posts about the draconian laws against sex offenders that make it extremely difficult for many of the offenders to ever be rehabilitated.   For example, see this about a teenager in Iowa who was put on the sex offender registry because, at age 16, he had sex with a girl he thought was 15, but turned out to be 13, and, as a result, could not live anything resembling a normal life.   And see this about offenders having to live in the woods because laws prohibit them from living near schools, churches, and day care facilities.

Another draconian trend has been for states to continue to incarcerate sex offender prisoners even after their sentences are finished. Well, that trend might now be having some difficultly because of the escalating amount of money it is costing the states to keep the offenders imprisoned.  In Virginia, the legislature passed a law about 10 years ago to keep some sex offenders  locked up even after their sentences ended, as long as they get treatment.   They are held indefinitely, subject to annual reviews by doctors.  However, that is a bit of a sham because there have only been 11 prisoners released since the program began.   (There are currently 252 offenders in indefinite incarceration.)

Virginia is different than other states with similar programs because, in Virginia, an offender can be kept incarcerated because of a single crime, whereas other states require multiple crimes.  In addition, Virginia originally had 4 crimes that were eligible for extended, indefinite commitment after the sentences ended.  That has since been expanded to 28 eligible crimes, which has caused the number of offenders admitted to the program to rise from one per month to 6-8 per month.

Not surprisingly, the escalating number of offenders who can be kept locked up after their sentences end has caused budgetary problems.  The cost in Virginia is expected to rise to $32 million next year, costing more than $100,000 per prisoner each year.

And, so, of course, the Virginia legislature is considering what to do about the cost.  Mind you, they don’t care that the program may essentially eliminate any chance that some of the offenders could be rehabilitated, all the legislature cares about is the money.  The best that can be said for this is that budgetary constraints may push some states to re-look at the fairness and effectiveness of their programs.  It may be that there is a need for some offenders to stay incarcerated.  But that would only be the correct thing to do if the programs really do keep only those offenders imprisoned and ensure that the others are released when their sentences end.

(And, by the way, over the weekend, I saw the award-winning play Frozen, by Bryony Lavery, which takes on the difficult questions of whether a serial child killer is “evil” or mentally ill and whether the mother of one of the murdered children can ever “forgive” the killer.  It’s a very disturbing play to sit through, but makes one think about the issues. )



Dear Republicans: Will You End Your Use of “Killing” Language?

Right wingers such as Republican Congress members , “patriots,” and tea partiers have learned that it helps them with their “base” to use the words like “killing” and “killers” and “death.”  For instance, they used “baby killer” to refer to abortion providers and, in particular, Bill O’Reilly and many others used “Tiller the Baby Killer” to refer to abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller who, as we all know, was assassinated by an anti-abortion zealot.  Also, the estate tax, in right-wing terms, came to be known as the “death tax.”

Of late, the most popular term used by Republican Congress members has been “job-killing.”  It became easy (and politically helpful with their base) for them to tack “job-killing” onto anything they disagreed with.  For instance, as reported by Leslie Savan in The Nation, their response to the 9/11 first responders health bill was that the bill was a “massive job-killing new entitlement program.”  In addition, as reported by Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein, Republican Congress members talk of “job-killing legislation and “job-killing regulations.”  “Big deficits are always ‘job-killing,’ which might come as something of a surprise to all you Keynesians out there.”  There are “job-killing spending binge[s]” and “job-killing stimulus projects.”  Republicans say that “President Obama runs a ‘job-killing administration’ with a ‘job-killing agenda’ carried out by, you guessed it, a ‘job-killing bureaucracy‘” and that the entire federal government is a “job-killing machine.”

The Republicans’ most recent egregious recent use of “job-killing” was to actually place it in the name of their bill to repeal health care reform: “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”  (Introduced by far-right-wing House majority leader Eric Cantor no less.)  According to experts, this is the only time that “job-killing” has ever appeared in the title of a bill.

The Republicans know that the bill will not pass and, in fact, almost certainly hope that there will never be any debate on the bill since that would only show the voters how repealing the health care bill would hurt them.  They also know that the health care bill does not “kill” jobs.  The only reason they introduced the bill was to check off a campaign promise.

In addition, as Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein writes, the way the Republicans use “kill” and “death” is a “GOP canard” and takes our eyes off real deaths.  Pearlstein says:

“What’s particularly noteworthy about this fixation with ‘job killing’ is that it stands in such contrast to the complete lack of concern about policies that kill people rather than jobs. Repealing health-care reform, for instance, would inevitably lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths each year because of an inability to get medical care.”

And so, now, in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shootings, and the Republicans’ statements that they supposedly want to tone down the heated political rhetoric, it might be time for them to stop using terms like “killing” and death.  A concrete signal would be for them to rename the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.”  Does anyone think that will actually happen?

Fox News Cannot Separate Itself from the Giffords Shootings

Fox News president Roger Ailes, in an interview with Russell Simmons, said that any attempts to connect his network or the tea party to the Gabrielle Giffords shootings are “bullshit.” He thinks that “both sides” are responsible for the hate rhetoric that has pervaded the country since 2000.  Nice try, Ailes, but it’s not going to work.  Anyone with an objective mind knows that Fox News has been responsible for the heated rhetoric.  (Granted, anyone who watches Fox News would not normally be associated with an “objective mind.”)

And how does Ailes explain why Fox News, not that long after the shootings, had an interview with a tea party “leader” who said, erroneously, that Loughner was “obviously a left wing anarchist” and that the “left” is “revolting” and “disgusting” if it tries to associate the tea party with the Giffords shootings.

Certainly, Fox News is more responsible than other other media for the hate rhetoric.  I won’t deny that what Ailes refers to as the “other side” has also contributed to the rhetoric, but there is no possible way that Ailes can deny that Fox News has been, by far, the major offender.  And, as for the “other side,” one way of looking at it is that the “other side” would never had used any hate rhetoric at all but for the fact that they had to (finally) respond to the bile coming from Fox News.

In fact, Ailes, himself, in the interview with Russell Simmons, acknowledges that Fox News has been responsible for the heated rhetoric since he says that “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.”  Fox News cannot now try to disassociate itself from the shootings.





John Boehner’s Statements Contributing to the Giffords Shootings

Most politicians are now talking about how the “heated” political rhetoric needs to be “toned down.”  But, of course, not much is expected to change.  Does anyone really believe that Sarah Palin will no longer talk about “targeting” someone?  Does anyone really believe that tea party supporters will not do something as obscene as screaming racial epithets at Rep. John Lewis (as they did when Lewis left a health care reform meeting)?  Does anyone believe that tea party supporters will no longer do something as obscene  as spitting on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (as one did when Cleaver walked to the Capitol)?  Does anyone believe that tea party supporters will no longer do something as obscene as hurling anti-gay epithets at Rep. Barney Frank (as they did when Frank left a health care reform meeting)?

One politician who might be able to get Republic Congress members to tone down the rhetoric is is newly-installed Speaker of the House John Boehner.  But does anyone really believe that he will do it?  After all, Boehner is the person who, when speaking about former Ohio Democratic Congress member Steve Driehaus, suggested that, by voting for Obama’s health care reform package, Driehaus “may be a dead man” and “can’t go home to the west side of Cincinnati” because “the Catholics will run him out of town.”  After those statements, Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house.

Does anyone really doubt that, after a brief hiatus, the rhetoric will be any less incendiary?  At the least, we need to keep reminding people that it is politicians like Boehner and Palin who contributed heavily to the atmosphere that led to the Giffords shootings.  As the Daily Kos wrote yesterday:


The conversation between Driehaus and Boehner . . . needs to be retold again and again in the wake of the Giffords shooting.  Especially in the context of the paranoid lies and deceit that lay like a dark shroud over the healthcare debate at the time, it is exemplary of everything that is wrong with the modern Right.


The Right-Wing Actions Contributing to the Giffords Shooting Attack

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the TV reports yesterday of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting went out of their way to avoid mentioning the political party that she belonged to, at least in the lead-ins to the stories.  Was there a conscious effort to try to avoid offending (or exciting) members of both parties?  Did anyone else have that feeling?   (I should add that internet and print reports did report Rep. Giffords’ party, although often not in the headlines or first few paragraphs.)

The reason I mention this is to state the obvious that it seems clear that the political rhetoric in this country contributed to the shootings.  And, in particular, it would appear to be “the culture of hate and violence increasingly reflected in extreme right-wing opponents of those who support progressive solutions to our country’s challenges.”  The press release (below) from NOW succinctly shows the hypocrisy of right-wing leaders (and, yes, that includes the tea party supporters) who are now condemning the shootings, but have amped up the rhetoric (and violence) against those with whom they disagree.  The mass media should be reporting on the events that contributed to the shootings and the right-wing politicians should be taking steps to tone down the “culture of hate and violence” rather than simply taking the easy path of condemning the shootings.  As it is, their statements are no more than the common tool of taking an harmful action and then “apologizing” for it.

Rep. Giffords Shooting is an Attack on All of Us:
NOW Calls on Right Wing to Disavow Violence and Hate Speech
Statement of NOW President Terry O’Neill

January 8, 2011

NOW condemns the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) that stole six lives and seriously injured 12 today. We condemn, equally, the culture of hate and violence increasingly reflected in extreme right-wing opponents of those who support progressive solutions to our country’s challenges.

Rep. Giffords, whose office was vandalized after she voted for the federal health care reform law last year, was also named on Sarah Palin’s “Targeted” list. Giffords (who has been consistently endorsed by NOW’s PAC) herself understood the not-so-well veiled threat, stating “the thing is that the way she [Palin] has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action.”

The pious condemnations we are now hearing by right-wing leaders are of little comfort if not accompanied by concrete action. Conservatives cannot have it both ways, screaming sexist, racist and homophobic slurs at legislators as they vote for health care reform, putting legislators on a violence-inciting “Targets” list, and then simply saying how sorry they are when someone explodes into murder.

In November 2009, as Democratic women spoke on the House floor about how the Affordable Care Act would benefit women, Republican Congressmen shouted them down. Led by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who repeatedly yelled “I object. I object. I object. I object. I object,” as Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) tried to talk, they carried on this attack for half an hour.

In March 2010, Tea Party supporters screamed a racial epithet at Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) as he walked toward Congress from a health care reform meeting. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) was walking with Lewis and confirmed the protesters were yelling “Kill the bill, kill the bill,” when they used the racial epithet. One man spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) as he walked to the Capitol. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) was taunted with anti-gay epithets as he left the same meeting in a House office building.

We call on Republican leaders to do more than disavow hatred, hostility and violence-laden speech as a political tool. We also call upon the Justice Department to investigate — to the fullest extent of federal anti-terrorist legislation — reports that this mass murder, which included the killing of a federal judge and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, was part of a conspiracy.

NOW offers our sincere condolences to the families of those who were slain, and we hope that all those who were injured will soon recover. Our thoughts are with all those involved in this horrible tragedy.

“Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry”

To coincide with the Thanksgiving holiday, the Southern Poverty Law Center has just released a paper titled Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.  The paper concerns the exploitation of mostly undocumented immigrant women who work in the U.S. food industry and is based upon interviews with 150 women.  The women talk about having to subsist on poverty wages, being subject to wage theft, and being sexually abused.  As is well-known, the women generally do not report the abuses because it would mean that they would lose their jobs, be reported to the immigration officials, and/or be subject to even more abuse.


The Executive Summary of the report says:


Fifty years ago this Thanksgiving, CBS broadcast “Harvest of Shame,” an Edward R. Murrow documentary that chronicled the plight of migrant farmworkers. Murrow closed the program with this commentary: “The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation.”

Not much has changed.

Unfortunately, it is obvious that not much has changed in 50 years.  The SPLC report has some recommendations for Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Labor, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the states.

While you are enjoying the Thanksgiving food, remember the plight of the many immigrant women who have worked hard to bring you the food.  Also remember their plight if you happen to get into any conversations with an anti-immigration xenophobe.



Minnesota GOP: “Democrat Women Are Dogs”

Well, this is classy:

The Republican website for a Minnesota Senate race posted a video, highlighting the latest reason you should vote for a GOP candidate this election cycle: Republican women are hot; Democrats are dogs. The YouTube clip shows photos of Republican women in flattering glamorized poses (frequently in bikinis), juxtaposed with purposely unflattering– often photoshopped– photos of Democratic women. Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady” plays in the background for the former; “Who Let The Dogs Out?” plays for the latter.

I’d expect an immature video such as this to circulate among newly politically-aware college frat boys on Facebook– not to be given legitimacy by a front page spot on a State Senate website. This is offensive to both sides, as once again a woman’s most significant characteristic is her physical appearance.

Republican House candidate Kathy Lohmer, as well as District 56 Senator Kathy Saltzman have spoken out against the video, pointing– rightfully so– to sexism. Lohmer called for the resignation of the website manager, who admitted to posting the video. Without apologizing, the webmaster explained he found the video funny, and asked why it even mattered.

Why does it matter? Because it’s a tiresome, sexist tactic that detracts from real issues and logic, and leaves women as the butt of the joke. Because women’s ability to participate fully in society and politics still hinges on being taken seriously for anything other than physical appearance. Because your own party’s candidates are offended, and it would behoove you to listen to them. But wait. You’re too busy staring at them.