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The Caging of America

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 12:07:20 PM EST

In doing some background reading on Restorative Justice, I cam across a chapter in a book by Jim Considine "Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime."  Written in 1999, the chapter is entitled "The Caging of America" and is more horrendous than anything I had imagined possible.

America is home to the largest prison industry in the world, with 2 Million prisoners and another 4 Million on probation or parole. Despite declining crime rates, the prison population has increased 10 fold in the past 30 years.  Moreover the rapidly privatising prison industry has a vested interest in ensuring this "market opportunity" continues to expand as rapidly as possible - and thus engages in almost no rehabilitative work which might allow prisoners to escape the cycle of ever greater incarceration in the "correctional" system.

But it gets worse.  Torture is endemic, 70% of all inmates are illiterate, 10% suffer from serious mental illness, and 70% have a history of serious substance abuse.   Many are juveniles convicted and incarcerated as adults, increasing numbers are women with dependent children, and almost 10% of the entire black community are either in prison, on probation, or on parole.  25% of black males will be in the criminal justice system at some time, and 50% of blacks in Washington DC will be imprisoned at some time before they reach the age of 24.  


Can this really be happening in the land of the free?  I give you the facts in a book that is almost 10 years old.  Perhaps the statistics are out of date or you have better sources.  However, according to the British Home Office statistics, the US has the highest prison population in the world and also the highest imprisonment rate (686 per 100,000 of population - 10 times the rate of many European countries.)  Can it be that the biggest injustice in the world is being perpetrated not in "Communist" China, or in a plethora of dictatorships in an impoverished third world, but in the USA - in the heart of democracy and prosperity itself?

I will give you some more statistics before opening the debate to those with much greater knowledge and experience of the American Justice system than I.

In the 1990's roughly €35 Billion was spent on the "correctional system" each year.  The prison-industrial complex includes top construction firms, investment banks issuing "prison bonds" and thousands of sub contractors and vendors.  In many poor rural areas, the local prison is the chief source of employment in low grade, low paid jobs.  The private sector is the fastest growing and a Prudential Securities  report states that "the industry has excellent prospects" despite some downside risks to growth such as falling crime.  (Crime fell by 18% between 1992 and 1996 and most of the newly imprisoned were for non-violent offences).

At the same time as this massive increase in prison spending, the number of  psychiatric patients in state mental hospitals in California has been cut from 40,000 in 1960 to 4,500 in 1997. State spending on prisons now exceeds spending on higher education, and so poor is the rehabilitative effect of the prison system, that two thirds of  imprisonments are for parole violations (and less than 4% are for violent crimes).  In some states, under the three strikes rule, you can receive a mandatory life (without parole) sentence for a relatively minor drug offence.

In California, less that 3% of imprisoned  substance abusers get any kind of drug addiction treatment and only 7% are enrolled in any kind of pre-release programme to help them cope with life on the outside.  Although the prevalence of illegal drug use is similar, black men are 5 times as likely to be arrested as white men, and 25% of all black men are likely to be imprisoned at some point in their lives.  Of the 128,000 women in US Jails, two thirds are mothers with dependent children, and 1.5 million children have a parent behind bars.  All states except Hawaii allow juveniles to be tried and sentenced as adults for some crimes and 63 Juveniles are on death row (1998).  Only five other countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen allow the execution of juveniles.  A 1988 study found that all juveniles on death row studied had suffered serious head injuries as children, all had serious psychiatric problems, all but two had been seriously beaten or abused as children.  Only 2 had IQ scores above 90.

Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun had this to say about conditions (Hudson v. McMillan):  "Various kinds of state sponsored torture and abuse - of a kind ingeniously designed to cause pain without telltale `significant injury' - lashing prisoners with leather straps, whipping them with rubber hoses, beating them with naked fists, shocking them with electric currents, asphyxiating them short of  death, intentionally exposing them to undue heat or cold, or forcibly injecting them with psychosis inducing drugs - techniques commonly thought to be practices outside this nation's borders, are hardly unknown within this nation's prisons".   In addition prisoners are shackled to bars for days at a time, food may be tampered with, medical care is almost non-existent, rectal probes are used to intimidate and rape, and an estimated 25,000 male prisoners are raped each day.

The battle for civil rights may have been won in the legislature, but is daily being lost in the courtrooms.  Poverty is increasingly being criminalised;  Torture is replacing healthcare; and there are more blacks in prisons than there are in third level education.

"A network of underwriters, builders and correction officers has a powerful financial interest in perpetuating and expanding the boom in the prison industry.  One group of beneficiaries, the prison guards of California, contributed $1 Million to help Republican Pete Wilson become Governor. In return, the governor initiated the most expansive prison construction programme any state has ever undertaken.  He has also approved the guard's request for more benefits.  The guards have been well rewarded for their investment.  In California, a prison guard now earns 30% more than a university lecturer." - Jim Considine

Deregulation of the markets has only been possible because of a massive re-regulation of civil society, where the poor, unemployed, addicted, mentally ill, dysfunctional, minority, or merely those who are unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time can find themselves imprisoned in inhuman conditions for very long periods of time.  If this were Iraq, the civilised world would be considering invading the USA to free its populace from unbearable tyranny.  What happened in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo is not some aberration.  It is the system which the US uses for many of its own people.

Poll
This Diary is:
. Communist Propaganda 15%
. A good marketing analysis of a business opportunity 15%
. A Chronicle of a crime against the people 55%
. A pretext for the invasion of America 10%
. A European Conceit 0%
. A whole lot of nonsense 0%
. Other: Please specify in comments 5%

Votes: 20
Results | Other Polls
Display:
but I didn't quite realise it was that bad

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 12:49:34 PM EST
That "Land of the Free" line. Excellent. It is still a powerful marketing tool for the US though, it still has a target audience.

Now, let's again ask ourselves, would there have been protests, some of them violent, of the sort we saw in Paris and London, during the running of the Olympic torch if, say, Chicago been awarded the Olympics?

Somehow, I think not, and I find this both striking and odd.

by redstar on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 12:56:37 PM EST
most at the racial injustice of the US criminal justice system, as you rightfully point out. Higher incarceration rates, higher execution rates, et c. A legacy of slavery whose institutions, though Americans assume ended in 1865, actually carried on through the penal code well into the 1960's. Example - vagrancy, defined as not having a job, was against the law in virtually all of the south and many parts of the "north" as well. Punishable by time in the chain gang. Funny thing, such laws were never enforced against poor whites. Only poor blacks. If someone can tell me the difference between forced labor and slavery, I'd be happy to hear it, but slavery really didn't end until the Civil Rights Act, and that was barely 40 years ago.

Of course, 150 years ago, it was the Irish getting it too, in the North. That's why a police van meant to transport prisoners is refered to as a Paddywagon. Now, the brown Muslim people are starting to get their turn.

The racism is endemic, systemic and in the process of being re-institutionalized with each roll-back of affirmative action, increase in states rights and erosion of the voting rights act.

by redstar on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 01:10:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Partly this is because repression in Tibet is presented as a directly Government sponsored activity against a racial and religious regional group whose aspirations to statehood are accepted by many.  Repression in the US has been somewhat localised and outsourced to the private sector.  However the major reason seems to be the triumph of propaganda over reality - hence this diary.  

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 01:59:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I again have to take issue with this because I am damn familiar with this type of selective protest argument. From the mouth of the so-called pro-war Left during the anti-Iraq-War protests.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 04:37:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We were then talking about a patently illegal war. People could disagree about this or that, but the war was very convincingly argued to be illegal, and some very noble things were done, in particular by Dominique de Villepin, who will get a pass from me on everything in future because of it, to ensure that illegality was not only underlined for all of us on the streets, but also for posterity, in the annals of the halls wherein international law on a multilateral basis (namely, the UN) is penned .

Tibet?

When there is clear and irrefutable evidence that Beijing is contrtavening international law in such a way with respect to Tibet, I will also think that they deserve the same rebuke, both by dirty hippies and by the international community, as London and Washington.

But I still don't see it. In fact, I don't even see it stripping away the crimes of London or Washington, but I can't help but note some of the more centrist of the so-called French left were hapy to use this as a poltical issue for domestic purposes and, given we are talking about the Olympics, yes, I found that comtemptible.

And anyhow, the US is guilty of such crimes now being protesting so much more demonstrably than the PRC. So when I see these morons in the streets aggresively challenging simple athletes carrying the torch for human achievement and the spirit of the Olympics, personally, like Marie George Buffet, I think something is quite wrong in this equation.

This is not a selective protest argument. This is, at the same time, and inappropriate venue of protest argument, and a criticism of the true intentions of protest organizers (beginning with the mayor of Paris and the leader of the PS) and the bona fides of the complaint being protested.

I will also note that the Dalai Lama himself is disgusted by the nature of these protests, and has threatened to stand down from his leadership role in the Tibetan exile community if they do not stop.

In any event, the UK and the US both deserve the rebuke both of the dirty fucking hippies, and the international community itself. Those Iraq war protests, I was in them too, still participate in them, but when was the last time anything of the magnitude of the London and Paris clusterfuck earlier this month take place? 2003? Where are the calls to boycott events in either country? Where is the threated trade embargo for either country? How about a security council resolution condemning both countries for their continuing crimes against humanity?

I'm not seeing those protests. But I'm seeing a lot of Richard Gere fans, headlined by the mayor of Paris, leading and/or otherwise facilitating other sorts of protests completely unrelated to the core of what is wrong in the world, in international relations, today, a wrong which has very very little to do with Beijing. I saw a very unserious left wholeheartedly participate in the framing of the most retrograde of the right (I mean Vaclav Klaus for god's sake) for the purposes of making cheap political points.

And as a lefty who is also french, I find this embarassing. Protest, all you like, behind you 100%. But protest the right damn purpose, and do it in the right damn forum. I take issue with the former in this case, obviously, but that's ok, I can live with that. As long as we are all generally speaking for equality and peace, I can forgive disagreements as to how to get there.

It is the combination of the former and the inappropriateness of the latter which really rankled me. Sport is, and sorry if this is simply the rank communist in me, one of the most noble of human endeavor and, when made available to all to practise and strive to achieve, one of the most effective methods of promoting fraternity not just among nations, but also within nations. If you want a future without war (not to mention youth who eschew mood altering drug), you cannot get there without sport, it plays not a principle role, but a strong facilitating role, though I would agree that now that the 2nd cold war is over, the West (tm) and in particular the anglo-americans have commercialized sport to a disgusting degree, de-emphasizing actual practise of sport by regular men and women, to the highly depersonalized, televised, alienating spectacle of sport as conceived of by advertizsers wherever there is a buck to be made. That is, by the way, simply how the system Miss Maggie called the one for which "There is no alternative" works. And, in many different ways, people die because so many believe that bullshit.

Ok, run on sentence. So now I stop.

by redstar on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 12:34:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We were then talking about a patently illegal war.

The pro-war Left wasn't only questioning that, but pointed at other patently illegal wars.

When there is clear and irrefutable evidence that Beijing is contrtavening international law

Since when is international law the only justification possible for leftists?

Then you return to the irrelevancies of what the French center-left does and what the US does: leftist moral standards aren't casual or relative.

You make quite a big issue of these torch-bearing-disrupting protests (I think they would be worth the third page of a daily, and may not even have heard of them save for your past diary), but too much so when you claim the Dalai Lama threatened to stand down over these -- no, that was over the violence and pogroms accompanying the protests in Tibet (which, I hasten to add pre-emptively, should not be used to tar all protests the same way the actions of the few hundred numbered Black Block should not have been used to tar the hundred thousand altermondialist G8 protesters). Meanwhile, it is true that the Dalai Lama said he disagrees with politicising the Olympics, especially boycotts. (Now if we are talking Dalai Lama nuance, I didn't see you appreciating that he only demands autonomy not independence.)

when was the last time anything of the magnitude of the London and Paris clusterfuck earlier this month take place?

Big fucking non sequitur (in a string of others). When was the last time, in fact when was at any time a protest that size over Tibet? (Or Sudan? Or Rwanda? Or the US in Afghanistan? Or etc.)

a wrong which has very very little to do with Beijing

You know I strongly disagree on that. The PRC is part of the global imbalance problem, part of the global warming problem, part of the Peak Oil problem, part of the neoliberalist globalisation problem. All of the statist internal measures of the PRC government (which, by the way, I normsally point out - of course with railway and wind power projects on top - to those who simply call the PRC evil) don't make up for that, and you used no other counterargument in the past.

As long as we are all generally speaking for equality and peace

Are you insinuating the protesters aren't?

Sport is, and sorry if this is simply the rank communist in me, one of the most noble of human endeavor...

So, are you equally enraged by the PRC security detail trying to manage torchbearers? And in addition to Anglo-Saxon commercialisation, what about state-sponsored doping, like practised in the past by East Germany (athletes, especially female) - and China (swimmers)? What about governments' attempts to push sports successes to then exploit them for propagandistic reasons? Free communists and assorted other leftists are talking about these, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 03:18:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We're still in the running for it...  If we get it, feel free to protest and boycot, but please don't be violent about it.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 04:45:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You won't see me protesting anything related to the Olympics, that's for goddamn sure.

It's the Olympics for chrissakes.

by redstar on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 11:59:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are we going to see protests, some violent, when the torch is being carried for London in 2012?  Probably not.  It's all a crock of shit.

I, frankly, find it funny that this business of protesting the Olympics is so big in America when all of about five of us actually watch the Olympics here.  And the last two times we've hosted them, they basically served as excuses to mow down public housing projects, and then to pretend as though Mormonism isn't utterly bizarre.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 05:55:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and the one in Atlanta was the first that wasn't "The best Olympics ever"...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 05:59:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are very negative these days.  Is something wrong?  

The Atlanta Olympics were bombed, btw.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:05:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are very negative these days.

Only these days? :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:10:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More so, yes.  Can you answer without a question or sarcasm?  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:12:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
<sigh> Can I answer without being accused of intended mischief? If anything, I got more of that in recent times. No, I don't think I'm more negative than ever before.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:24:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
all of about five of us actually watch the Olympics here

That's interesting. I'd thunk American TV channels buy the broadcasting rights because of big domestic audience. And there is another interesting angle.

There is a definite strand of opinion among leftists to view the Olympics as a commercialised monster that moved far from the original amateur ideals. At least in Europe, added to this is a view of the Olympics as a venue for the US to confirm it's Numero Uno status to itself, with full help of the medical industry for the athletes (like earlier East German athletes and Chinese swimmers). (This gets funnier when people declare that the Football World Cup is the One True Global Sports Event, it being just as commercialised and even more riddled with scandals.)

(Myself, I take a cool view on this, I still like the get-together-ness of it, and it's the Olympics during which I get to see some rare sports. On the other hand, as linca said earlier, I see some traditional Olympics sports disappear or radically cut - say pentathlon - to make room for stuff like beachball.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:20:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I couldn't care less about commercializing the Olympics, really.  The Super Bowl is the most commercialized event on the planet, and I still love it.  (Half the entertainment of it comes from the great commercials, after all, but y'all don't get those over there.)  I think people simply don't like the sports much, and coverage is really just psychotic here.  You watch one sport for fifteen minutes, then on to something else for five, and something else for nine, and something else for three, and so on.  It's nuts, even by the standard of the American attention span.

The ratings are awful on them, if I'm not mistaken, and they get worse every two years.  They'll be on cable soon enough.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there no parallel broadcasting, e.g. one channel one competition while a second another, and doing only short results summaries for the respective other sport?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:35:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Erm, kinda-sorta-not-really.  Depends on time of day, and on who's bought the rights.  Usually one of the big three networks (ABC, NBC or CBS) will buy the rights, and, if it's ABC, ESPN (owned by ABC) will do coverage across all six or seven billion of its channels.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:41:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe commentary counts, too. Are there separate commenetrs for different sports, who explain what the just shown sport is about, and tell who is to watch; or is it a continuous, spontaneous commentary by the same?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:38:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:41:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... I meant to finish: "by the same single presenter?". Is the Yep a yep for that?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:44:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, no.  It's separate commentators for each sport.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:46:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
presenter, I mean commentator.

Maybe I best go to bed before committing more of these and more negativity...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:47:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When following the Turin Olympics, I remember that one out of the four or five Yahoo! columnists talked mostly about how and why the evening's broadcast would be made in which order : Starting with the possible USA gold medalist in half pipe, then putting the figure skating at the very end to keep the women in front of the TV for the whole broadcast, etc...

I think the only sport that is improved by such strong editing is US football, which is way too slow to watch live. OTOH, a track-and-field evening, with the pole jumping lasting all night, etc... has a rhythm on its own, which is destroyed by such cutting.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:53:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The olympics have declined in viewership in the US for two reasons. One, the networks won't show the events live, preferring to create a narrative for prime time; two, they have turned it from a sporting event into a human interest story (ie, 15 minute pieces on a weightlifter that watched his entire family get killed by mobsters, endured 10 years of torture, then crawled through 1000 miles of mud to freedom).

When viewership declines yet again, there is always a story in which the network says "our research told us this is what the public wants" by which they mean "this is what our board of directors made to clear to us to find."

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:05:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
15 minute pieces on a weightlifter that watched his entire family get killed by mobsters, endured 10 years of torture, then crawled through 1000 miles of mud to freedom

Hilarious and brilliant.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:12:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only that, but despite the meganormousness of the event, some sports are asked to make way for the more "trendy" ones through absurd participation-limiting processes : for example, canoeing slalom was restricted to one participant per nation, which mean that many potential gold medalists won't get to participate ; or one of the very traditional Olympic sports, fencing, the team events have to rotate between the three weapons : each Olympiad, one of team fleuret, epée and sabre is kept out... And in the mean time, there's that soccer tournament with a dozen 22-persons teams, which noone cares about. In short, good ratings (beach volley, with swimwear participants ! ) is put before actual fair competition.

And of course, the 'let's have the Olympics in the US every ten years' tradition is annoying. Why not just say they take place in Atlanta all the time and get done with it ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:02:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought the Olympics originated in Greece - or the modern ones in Paris.  Why Atlanta?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:16:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because US cities specialize in managerial incompetence when it comes to the Olympics, and no city does managerial incompetence better than the ATL.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:43:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hope I'm not accused of excessive negativity for this, but when someone says Atlanta Olympics, the image that immediately comes up in my mind is the the aftermath of the downpour on the athletic field. No working canalisation design, the ponds also reveal how uneven the tracks are, the athletes slip, while cheerful but totally incompetent amateur helpers fail to push the water off the track with their brishes even when they get the idea to stand up from their chairs. (Salt Lake City, and from the little I saw, LA was better done, as was the 1994 Football World Cup.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 04:10:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Coca Cola?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 02:09:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Tibetans are noble savages and have an excellent marketing group. The African American community does not.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:12:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And we assign them marketing teams that screw them.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:34:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or is it easier to fight an injustice 10,000 miles away than one much closer to home?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:46:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Right.  The story on Tibet has pretty much been fed to us as the Evil Communists beating up on the Peaceful Religious Folk.  How people see race in America can't even be close to properly described in less than a few hundred pages of writing.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:49:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew J Jones:
How people see race in America can't even be close to properly described in less than a few hundred pages of writing

And perhaps the Tibet issue is just as complicated - as are many conflicts in the world.  The "mediafication" of conflicts into black and white, good guys and bad guys, is part of the problem.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 03:37:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I'm pretty sure there would be protests. Millions marched against the Iraq war and not all of them have forgotten that it's still going on.
But there wouldn't be boycotts and no lectures by our more or less elected leaders.

Von überall könnte das Volk, Urbrut alles Undemokratischen, Zelle des Terrors, über die gewählten Hüter von Wachstum und Wohlstand® kommen. - flatter
by generic on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:15:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I knew it was this bad (after all, I lived there for many years as a politically active person).  Words don't do justice to the insane, rotten-to-the-core wrongness of the whole shebang.

And of course DeAnander's Law applies:  it is more profitable to keep this lucrative prison-industrial complex running than to shut it down.  Powerful interests -- corps like KBR and Halliburton, who get contracts for building prisons in the US as well as overseas -- make lots and lots of money in this "sector of the economy" as it's blandly known.  This ensures that there's a lobby to keep locking up more and more people, a propaganda machine to frighten the public into supporting more and more draconian punishments and more and more paranoid "get tough" laws.  And -- and this is tragic -- the prison industry "creates jobs" in dead-end, gutted ex-industrial towns, offering work for guards, maintenance personnel, cooks, cleaners, clerks in places that industrial capitalism has chewed up and spat out.  O Benevolent Industry, please come to our dying town and give us Jobs!

BTW, I was reading fast as I have to get on to my own local problems, but I think it went unmentioned here that some prisoners in the US are made available at minimum wage to corporate employers for piecework -- a kind of internal outsourcing, an FTZ within the national borders.  The ultimate non-union captive (literally) labour force!

Prisoners now manufacture everything from blue jeans, to auto parts, to electronics and furniture. Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Toys R Us used prisoners to restock shelves, and Microsoft to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries.

Inmates are also employed in a wide variety of service jobs as well. TWA has used prisoners to handle reservations, while AT&T has used prison labor for telemarketing. In Oregon, prisoners do all the data entry and record keeping in the Secretary of State's corporation division. Other jobs include desktop publishing, digital mapping and computer-aided design work.

US employers have pointed to the tight labor market for their interest in employing prisoners. But the other advantages, though not stated publicly, are obvious. The prison system can provide an “ideal” workforce: employers do not have to pay health or unemployment insurance, vacation time, sick leave or overtime. They can hire, fire or reassign inmates as they so desire, and can pay the workers as little as 21 cents an hour. The inmates cannot respond with a strike, file a grievance, or threaten to leave and get a better job.

Prisoners who refuse to work under these conditions are labeled “uncooperative” and risk losing time off for “good behavior,” as well as privileges such as library access and recreation. In one case, two prisoners at California's Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility were put in solitary confinement after a local television station broadcast their complaints about working for C.M.T., a T-shirt manufacturer that required them to put in 60 days of unpaid “training.”

Now that's what I call "market discipline."

80,000 workers is not a large number in such a big country, but it's still 80,000 jobs that are not held at a decent wage by free people.  The prison gets to collect Federal minimum wage for each hour worked, but the prisoners don't get all of that.

The struggle over prison labor has a long history in the US. In the early 1800s, group workshops in prisons replaced solitary handicrafts, and the increased efficiency allowed prisons to be self-supporting. Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors, who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Manufacturers who lost work to prison contractors opposed the leasing system, but only with the growth of the union movement came effective opposition to prison labor. One of the most famous clashes, the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891, took place when the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts. The miners stormed the prison and freed 400 prisoners, and when the company filled up work with more prisoners, the miners burned the prison down.

The prison leasing system was disbanded in Tennessee shortly thereafter, but remained in many states until the rise of the CIO and industrial unionism in the 1930s. As a result of this mass movement of workers, Congress passed the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act, making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. However, under the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which granted exemptions from Ashurst-Sumners for seven “Prison Industry Enhancement” pilot projects. Congress has since granted exemptions to all 50 state prison systems.

Although prison labor is today in its infancy, it could become one of America's most important growth industries. Over the last decade, the prison population has increased by 840,000, many of these prisoners having been convicted of nonviolent crimes. With the use of tough-on-crime mandatory sentencing laws, the prison population continues to grow. Some experts believe that the number of people locked up in the US could double in the next 10 years. The expansion of the number of prisoners will not only increase the pool of slave labor available for commercial profit, but also will help pay for the costs of incarceration.

With 2 million inmates, the US already has the largest prison population in the world. China, which the AFL-CIO consistently condemns as anti-worker and totalitarian, has a half-million fewer prisoners. With only 5 percent of the world's population the United States has a quarter of the world's 8 million prisoners.

The WSWS obviously has its axe to grind, but their figures don't clash with others I have seen from less sectarian sources -- the story is pretty consistent.

How this all gets dismantled, short of armed struggle, I don't know.  I do know that I worry (along with Dmitry Orlov) about the fate of US prisoners in the event of a serious dislocation in energy and/or food supplies, and about the effects of a sudden unplanned release of all these angry, abused incarcerees should the system break down.

Basically, industrial capitalism has substituted fossil fuels for human labour, with great success (ignoring for a moment all the "externalities" that threaten to bring down western civilisation entirely, such as biotic bankruptcy and industrial toxicity).  So there's a huge pool of "unnecessary" humans out there, not needed to produce widgets -- more than are required even to sweep the floors, clean the toilets, kiss the asses and suck the dicks of the affluent.  So those "excess" people pose a problem -- and the answer in the US is "efficient" industrial warehousing of the "surplus population" (thank you Mr Scrooge), plus using some portion of them as slave labour to increase corporate profits.  In other countries, these unwanted humans are warehoused in giant slums, cordoned off, sometimes hunted for sport by local law enforcement and military (effectively private security for the affluent).

Sometimes it could almost make a person nostalgic for feudalism.

It seems pretty clear that we're at a point of dislocation.  The cheap fossil fuel that was substituted for human labour is running out, and the industrial processes that it fuelled are running into their own diminishing returns and risible shortsightedness.  What does A do now?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 01:31:56 PM EST
WSWS?  And all it takes is one prisoner on parole to commit a violent crime for the cry to tighten up sentencing laws to be raised.  Are people generally really so frightened that they buy into this sort of thing?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 02:06:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are people generally really so frightened that they buy into this sort of thing?

Yes.

(This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 02:47:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The prison world doesn't touch the middle class, though, and thus indifference is part of the problem, as governments by definition want greater control over their citizens, and will always push for stricter laws.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 03:02:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having smoked pot every now and again probably counts as having "a history of substance abuse". Most of those people are in there because of the insane, racist war on drugs.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 02:53:42 PM EST
However, according to the British Home Office statistics, the US has the highest prison population in the world and also the highest imprisonment rate (686 per 100,000 of population - 10 times the rate of many European countries.)

Thanks for the link. Checking it, next are the Cayman Islands (what's up with that?), Russia and Belarus (though some countries like China have incomparable figures that say exclude people not yet sentenced).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 02:55:58 PM EST
I can't find the reference but apparently one can correlate rises and falls in prison populations with disparities in salaries top and bottom. I don't know whether this applies to all societies or just W*estern ones.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 03:23:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know whether there is a general trend to this effect, but the big rise in the US prisoner population seems to have started during the Reagan era and been continued right through Clinton to Bush.  There have been right wing xenophobic eras before (e.g. McCarthy) but I don't know what the prison stats were then.   Migeru will doubtless explain it as due to the (temporary) demise of Keynesianism and the elimination of affirmative action and public health, welfare, education and housing programs. The "free" market is only free if many of the losers are in chains, it seems...

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 06:56:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, I think it was mostly due to zero-tolerance/three-strikes laws and the like, especially as they related to drugs.  We started prosecuting junkies pretty heavily under Reagan, ditching the "Drugs are a Medical Issue" ideas of Carter for Reagan's racism- and senility-fueled "Lock All the Damned Negroes Up!" wackiness, and that's gone on to this day.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:10:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew J Jones:
Actually, I think it was mostly due to zero-tolerance/three-strikes laws

Yea, but what gave those laws the traction they needed in public discourse to be enacted?  They weren't enacted in the 1950's that were otherwise very conservative.  Are Americans MORE afraid now than they ever have been?  Do Drugs go against the puritan ethos?  Did middle America take fright from the anti-Vietnam/civil rights/counter culture turmoil?  Something seems to have dramatically changed attitudes, and it isn't the incidence of crime, because that has been going down.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:38:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For now, it's not perceived to be a big issue.  Nobody talks about the prison population.  What allowed things to turn was the Civil Rights Act, which began the realignment of the South, throwing support to Reagan (and gradually Republicans in general leading up to the 1994 midterms).  The economy was in trouble in the late-1970s, with the center and a strong chunk of the economic left (middle-class suburbanites and working-class whites) becoming disillusioned with the Democratic Party, and you had a recipe for a Reagan victory and a gradual shift of the power structure.

The crack epidemic didn't help either.  With crime rising, and the critical voting blocs increasingly pissed off, it was easy pickin's for a "law and order" Rep.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:14:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew J Jones:
For now, it's not perceived to be a big issue.  Nobody talks about the prison population.
Not even in the black community?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:20:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was speaking more of the press than of the citizenry.  Yeah, it's a huge topic in the black community, which is, of course, largely excluded from the traditional media.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:41:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We saw what happens when some black preacher talks about three strike laws and it gets into the MSM.

Giving this to Mos Def (Mathematics):

   when the average minimum wage is $5.15
    you best believe you got to find a new grind to get cream
    the white unemployment rate? it's nearly more than triple for blacks
    front liners got they gun in your back
    bumble and crack
    jewel theft and robbery to combat poverty
    and end up in the global jail economy
    stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence
    budget cutbacks but increased police presence
    and even if you get out of prison still livin
    join the other 5 million under state supervision
    this is business
    no faces just lines and statistics
    from ya phone, ya zip code, the s and side digits
    the system break man child and woman into figures
    2 columns for who is and who aint niggers

It's not just about conservatism and whether the 1980s were more or less conservative than the 1950s. Although part of it is keeping young black men under check now that they've got their civil rights. The bigger part of it is neoliberalism. No faces, just lines and statistics. Just the moneymaking. There are a large number of winners from the war on drugs and they have a much bigger mic for lobbying than young poor blacks.

There is a great Dutch documentary on this from 1999 which you should all watch. It's mostly English, and on google video by now, so go here:

DNW - De War on Drugs

And embedded (smaller):

Just check out the narc officer at 03:08. Totally self-funded.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 04:10:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When was the last time someone from the black community had significant positive air time? (I'm not counting Oprah, because she's - well - Oprah.)
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:42:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And Oprah only gets it because of her Godlike status among suburban white women.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:43:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I offered some comparative figures and links in my diary Where The Jobless Go.

See also an article by Berkeley academic/French leftie Loïc Wacquant (pdf).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 03:51:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cayman Islands: Oldfashioned debtor's prisons maybe? Here is something from Bermuda which also has a very high rate.
However Mr. Trott calculated that recent surges in the prison population - due to more men being jailed for not paying child maintenance - meant Bermuda's rate was now much higher.
Mr. Trott said Government's plans for Alternatives to Incarceration, which include other ways to extract cash rather than jail non-payers, plus half-way houses for civil offenders would tackle rising incarceration rates.

by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 05:03:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Rate already at 726 as of 2005 (BBC). That's some impressive growth.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 05:51:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as the prison industry is a private enterprise, these brave prison entrepreneurs must be able to produce increasing profits each quarter to satisfy their shareholders. Incarceration rates only goes up in this bold growth industry. The magic of the market at work.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 06:09:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can I make a really crazy suggestion?  Since Prisons are supposed to rehabilitate people, why not make a law that a prison will only be paid, or be paid a large bonus, if a prisoner doesn't re-offend within 5 years of being released?  That would provide a massive incentive to ensure that true rehabilitation, treatment and training facilities are provided within the Prison service.  Or is the whole system not even notionally about rehabilitation at all, and is it really about "cleansing" American society of undesirables?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 07:58:10 PM EST
Don't you know that felons forfeit all their rights, and that the ass rapin' they get in jail is fair game ? It's already too good for them that they get released !

i.e., the later part. I think most European legal systems consider that eventually all prisoners will get out, even the cruelest criminals ; e.g. there is no true perpetuity in French law, unlike "life without parole" in the US.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:06:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Since Prisons are supposed to rehabilitate people

Prisons are supposed to make money, and give nasty lowlife CEOs and politicians someone to beat up on and exploit.

I don't think these people are seriously interested in rehabilitation.

It's not just the money - it's the sadism.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:45:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially for the ones on death row.  The death penalty has nothing to do with deterrence and everything to do with the fact that some people like the idea of killing other people.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Apr 17th, 2008 at 08:47:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
It's not just the money - it's the sadism.

But why has this increased 10 fold in the past 30 years?  Sure, white supremicism is said to be rife amongst prison guards - is the prison system the last redoubt of officially sponsored race based prejudice and torture?  Somewhere for the racist hold-outs to congregate and practice their black arts?  A sort of human sink of hatred and domination?

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 03:44:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only what you say, but crime has turned from something some do to something others do.

The lower middle class used to live in urban settings, where it would be mingled with the lower classes ; thus some of the guys you knew from high school would end up doing some petty thievery, drug dealing, etc... but you knew the guy was essentially all right, and that he'd come out of jail, find a girl and correct his ways.

Now that anyone with a bit of money lives in suburbia, class segregation is much stronger - the poor are blacks or "white trash". You don't meet any of them in school or at the local bar. Thus the image of felons is entirely based on the fact that they committed a crime ; they are not people you might know, they are thus no longer really human beings.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 06:26:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was the Thatcher/Reagan revolution - it completely obliterated any sense of wider community, and replaced it with superficial and shallow class allegiances.

The wingers hate that sense of belonging to something which has elements they can't control, can't abuse and can't exploit.

It makes them feel ordinary and dirty. And they've done an excellent job of selling that neurosis to the middle classes.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 09:43:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A perception aided and greatly enhanced by Hollywood action movies - incidentally, from the eighties.

Then again, even in films, one sees a certain prior development. I see the archetype of action heroes in Travis Bickle, the anti-hero/hero of Taxi Driver. (Yet, that was and remains a good film.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 04:22:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Dirty Harry anyone ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 07:03:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Taxi Driver - 1976
Dirty Harry - 1971

...shows my cluelessness... (disclosure: though I know the character, I never saw any of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry films.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Apr 19th, 2008 at 07:13:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  Don't forget that convicted  felons can't vote in some states, so that holds down the black vote.  In Ohio, in 2004, some felons were told they could not vote in Ohio, but they are allowed to vote in Ohio.

At first, I thought you meant these border fences were caging us in in the US.  

I think there was a time when we believed in rehabilitation.

by tobysmom (tobysmom) on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 12:14:31 AM EST
For much of the twentieth century, about one American in a thousand was confined to a cell. The proportion of Americans behind bars started rising in the mid-Seventies, and by 2003 had done so for twenty-eight consecutive years. Counting jails, there are now seven Americans in every thousand behind bars. That is nearly five times the historic norm and seven times higher than most of Western Europe.

and perhaps relevant to the controversy about the Clinton years and Obama's remarks about them:

The 1990s were said to be a time when rising tides finally did lift all boats. Western warns that part of the reason, statistically speaking, is that many poor men have been thrown overboard--the government omits prisoners when calculating unemployment and poverty rates. Add them in, as Western does, and joblessness swells. For young black men it grows by more than a third. For young black dropouts, the jobless rate leaps from 41 percent to 65 percent. "Only by counting the penal population do we see that fully two out of three young black male dropouts were not working at the height of the 1990s economic expansion," Western warns. Count inmates and you also erase three quarters of the apparent progress in closing the wage gap between blacks and whites.

And lots more in The American Prison Nightmare by Jason Parle (an NYRB piece from a year ago)

by MarekNYC on Fri Apr 18th, 2008 at 02:10:49 AM EST


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