Friday, February 29, 2008

Land of the irresponsible, Home of the scared ?

Being free requires a strong people, able to handle personal responsiblility and being free involves risk. Our founders firmly believed that those who choose safety over freedom deserved neither. Today we are drowned with messages such as “there ought to be a law against _____, we need to get tough on crime, we have a war on drugs, we need more police, we need more jails, we are soft on crime. “ These are all messages of selling us safety from our freedom.

Today many of these are even being sold to us as conservative values when they are really nothing more than authoritarianism, making people fear freedom and asking for protection from it. Whatever happened to the land of the free and the home of the brave ?

Record-High Ratio of Americans in Prison

My Way’s headline this morning read Record-High Ratio of Americans in Prison .Last year I did a series of articles about how out of control this had become and the economic and human impact this is having on society. The raw numbers are bad enough, but even they are don’t tell the real story.. Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 - one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it’s more than any other nation!

But let’s break that down into relevant data. One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is incarcerated. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation, far ahead of more populousChina with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which round out the Top 10.

The U.S. also is among the world leaders in capital punishment. In 2006 our 53 executions were exceeded only by China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan. The illusion we are soft on crime is one of the biggest fabrications of data used to create fear among the citizens to allow the government to take more of your freedoms away so you will be safe.

Getting what we asked for

“They want to be tough on crime. They want to be a law-and-order state,” said the project’s director, Adam Gelb. According to the report, the average annual cost per prisoner was $23,876, with Rhode Island spending the most ($44,860) and Louisiana the least ($13,009). As I reported on last year, while the costs are a real drain on the tax payer, for those who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” Who is profiting?

At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.”

At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month. Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets.

A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq. Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”

Directly attributably to the politics of fear ( a/k/a the war on drugs

Drug use was rampant among American military personnel serving in Vietnam, many of whom were African-American or Latino (Baum, 1997, pp. 48). It was feared that returning personnel, twenty percent of whom were reported to be addicted to heroin, would fuel a crime wave in the U.S. Having promised to fight crime in his 1968 campaign, and responding to the connections between drug use, drug trafficking and crime, President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971 (Terkel, 1997, p. 29). Nixon made expansion of heroin treatment a major priority before the 1972 elections (Massing, 1998). After the election, these initiatives were set aside by the distraction of the Watergate scandal investigation, and Nixon’s resignation in 1974

Nixon created several new retribution-oriented, enforcement entities. The Drug Enforcement Administration, created in 1973 in the Department of Justice, became permanent. The contemporary war on drugs commenced with the demise of the Carter Administration’s policy of marijuana decriminalization in 1978 (Baum, 1997, pp. 112-136; Musto, 1999, pp. 262-267). An uninterrupted increase in spending across government levels for anti-drug efforts has ensued (White House, 1991, 2000b).

Since 1982, almost every Congress has passed anti-drug laws to crack down on drug dealers and drug users. An anti-drug, anti-crime package passed in December 1982 was vetoed by President Reagan because it provided for a cabinet-level drug czar who, the Attorney General feared, would interfere with his responsibilities (Gest, 2001, pp. 48-49). In 1984 Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which created a presumption in favor of pretrial detention of all defendants who are charged with a drug offense carrying a sentence of more than 10 years (notwithstanding the bail provision of the Eighth Amendment) (P.L. 98-473, sec. 203, creating 18 U.S.C. 3142(e)). This affects most federal drug defendants and the majority of federal drug offenses (21 U.S.C. 841 et seq.). New mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses were also created in 1984 (Musto, 1999, pp. 273-274; P.L. 98-473, sec. 503, creating 21 U.S.C. 845A).

In 1986, in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, Congress created many mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offenses (P.L. 99-570, sec. 1002), notwithstanding Congress’ repeal of drug mandatory minimums in 1970. In the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the drug crimes of attempt and conspiracy were brought under the mandatory minimum sentence scheme, as well as simple possession of crack cocaine (P.L. 100-690, sec. 6470 and sec. 6371). This has resulted in the mushrooming of the Federal prison population described above.

We have been given the protection we sought

Law is now utilitarian and can either be what the majority perceives or it can be what the elite says it is. There is no absolute. In the end now law is what a court or judge says it is.

The idea that God endows man with absolute rights, such as life and liberty, are all lost in the the legal theory os sociological jurisprudence. Oliver Wendall Holmes who was a a contemporary of Pound (and Frankfurter) clearly rejected the eighteenth and nineteenth century higher law concepts, as he felt “law was an embodiment of the ends and purposes of a society at a given point in history”.

But what are the implications of this? If there are no absolutes truths, then there are no absolute rights, because everything changes for the “ends and purposes of society”. Can anyone hear hear the phrase, “for the greater good of the group” ? Laws under Holmes view are “beliefs that have triumphed” and no more. Under this type of legal system and theory, The will of the state (and what best suits it purposes) is the law.Holmes posited, “Truth is the majority vote of that nation which can lick all others.” He declared He was so brazen as to declare that “when it comes to the development of corpus juris the ultimate question is what do the dominant forces of the community want and do they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions may stand in the way”

Here is what Holmes remarked concerning the nature of man, “I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand, I believe that our personality is a cosmic ganglion, just as when certain rays meet and cross there is a white light at the meeting point, but that the rays go on after the meeting as they did before , so, when certain other streams of energy cross at a meeting point, the cosmic ganglion can frame a syllogism or wags its tail.”

How many are saying, that ok-at least we are “safe” ? At what cost?

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