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Prophet 451

Prophet 451's Journal
Prophet 451's Journal
December 29, 2013

The Degree Of Civilization

The degree of civilization in a society may be judged by entering it’s prisons” ~ Dostoevsky

Pop quiz, kids: Which nation has more of it’s populace imprisoned than any other country on earth?

Nope, it’s not China. It’s not Russia either. Cuba? Good guess but they’re number five. According to Wikipedia (which has it’s problems but is generally fairly reliable), the number one prison population on earth is the USA, both per capita and absolute. In per capita terms, the US locks up around 743 people per 100k. In absolute terms, the BBC tells me that there are 2,193,798 people in prison in the USA. Obviously, that number rises and falls slightly each day as people get imprisoned and released but still, over 2 million people. Red China, where the government is outright oppressive and dictatorial, has around 1.5 million under lock and key but free and democratic America has two million and change locked down.

Of those, around a quarter are there for drug offences of various kinds. That’s the population of San Bernadino locked up for drug offences. According to the Department of Justice, 17% of state and 18% of federal prisoners committed their crimes to obtain money for drugs (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/dudsfp04.pdf). According to DrugWarFacts.org, around fifty thousand total are held purely for offences relating to cannabis. Full disclosure: I haven’t smoked pot in about twenty years but I did when I was a teenager and I’m sure a fair few of you did as well. Were we dumb to smoke pot as teenagers? Yeah, probably. But we were teenagers, making dumb decisions is what teenagers do. Another piece of full disclosure: I think pot should be legalised. Age-restricted but otherwise legal, just like alcohol. I still wouldn’t smoke it because taking any form of mind-altering substance when you’re mentally ill is a very bad idea but it makes no difference to me if my neighbour chooses to smoke a joint rather than have a drink. I also don’t want to turn this into a rant about the virtues of legalising weed (although, if you’ve a mind, Salon has a chilling piece about pot sentences: http://www.salon.com/2012/10/29/ten_worst_sentences_for_marijuana_related_crimes/) so let’s move on.

Around 40% of the US prison population are black. According to the Census, black people comprise about 14% of the US population but around 40% of prisoners. What explains that? Well, partly, it’s because black people are more likely to live in poverty and poverty is the most reliable indicator of criminal acts during life but it’s mostly because the average prison sentence handed down to a black guy is 20% longer than the sentence for the same crime committed by a white guy (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324432004578304463789858002.html). The 100-1 ratio of crack to cocaine sentences has led to the incarceration of thousands of non-violent drug offenders. Even though that difference has been reduced to 18-1, those prisoners remain in the system. The US prison population was mostly static from 1925 onwards. It started to rise in the late Seventies (as crime always rises during recessions) but then it exploded during the Eighties and onwards (). Why is that?

Two reasons. Firstly, the drug war. Let’s be honest here, the drug war has been lost. It is no more difficult to buy a hit of heroin now than it was in 1975. It hasn’t been a success and it can’t be a success. It can’t be a success due to a basic fact of human nature: Where a demand exists, people will appear to meet that demand. That’s just how things work, a basic law of humanity. So the laws against drugs are commonly broken and, by that breaking, a massive number of people are classified as criminals. Now, proponents of the drug war would argue that the laws against murder are commonly broken so should we abandon them too? That’s a fair question. The difference is that murder harms someone else whereas taking drugs, in and of themselves, harms only the taker. What about the crimes committed to support a drug habit, like theft? What about them? We already have laws against theft and I’m not proposing the legalisation of all drugs anyway, just of certain soft drugs like pot.

The other thing that changed was the rise of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This is one of the stupidest movements in human history. The whole reason we have a judge deciding sentencing is so that the sentence can reflect the circumstances of the crime and the perp. Mandatory minimums throw out all that human wisdom in favour of flat sentencing that pays no attention to circumstances. In New York, for example, possessing (note that’s possession, not supply) more than four ounces of any hard drug will get you a minimum of fifteen to life. There are easily found stories of people locked up for life under three-strikes laws for offences as minor as stealing a slice of pizza or a loaf of bread.

And the US does a lousy job of rehabilitating prisoners as well. We’ve all been shown on tv that prisoners get to complete their education. There are good reasons to educate prisoners. A prisoner who earns their GED inside is half as likely to re-offend. A prisoner who earns their college degree will almost certainly never see the inside of a prison again. You might say it’s unfair that people get sent to prison and get a free education. I would respond that firstly, I’d like to make everyone’s education free and secondly, look at the facts. According to a study conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, every dollar spent on inmate education saves twelve dollars in future crimes (http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/us-fails-educate-inmates-life-prison/story?id=19204306#.UeYcSW0phAo). Another study by UCLA found that a million dollar investment in incarceration produced 350 jobs while that same million invested in education, produced 600 jobs (ibid.). Prisoners used to be able to aply for Pell grants to cover the cost of their courses but that was eliminated in the mid-Nineties. The result is that there isn’t funding for prisoners to get educated. Prison budgets are constantly being cut and the first thing to go, after the gyms that tv thinks are in every prison, are education programs.

Oh, and your prisons are over capacity as well.

So what happens when the average prisoner gets released? He probably hasn’t had a chance to finish his education. Because of the prejudice against ex-cons (not entirely undeserved prejudice, in fairness), he’s probably not going to be able to get a job. Ex-cons are routinely discriminated against in housing, public assistance and education (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/25/prisons-job-homeboy-industries). So what does he do simply to get by? Chances are pretty good he goes back to crime. That’s why the recidivism rate in 2004 was about 67% (http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=17). In countries that take rehabilitation seriously, like Sweden or Canada, it’s about 35% (http://releasedandrestored.org/statistics.html).

Some would say that we send people to prison to be punished. But we don’t. The prison is the punishment. With the exception of lifers, we send people to prison in the hopes that prison will, in some rough and ready fashion, turn them into honest people. The lifers, we’re just warehousing them until they die (or, in some cases, executing them) but for the rest, we have to acknowledge that they will eventually be released and, if we want them to become productive members of society, we have to equip them to be productive members of society. That means educating them. It means drug rehab facilities, preferably at the end of their prison stay (works better that way). It means making an effort to ensure that ex-cons can find work. Look, I’m not saying that we can just open the gates and let all prisoners free. That would be stupid and, more importantly, unjust. But it’s also unjust that people whose only offence was puffing a joint years ago should be rotting in jail twenty years later. It’s unjust to impose a life as a member of the underclass on someone who has paid their debt to society.

And that’s not even touching on the subject of private prisons. This is another incredibly stupid idea brought to you by the worship of private enterprise. The states and the Fed already do prisons about as cheaply as it’s possible to do them so the only way private prisons can do it cheaper is to cut corners. Less guards, less nutritious food, less education. And the corporations that run private prisons are going to behave like any other corporation, they’re going to try to maximise their profits. That means they’re going to lobby for more and longer prison sentences. That means that your government, which is already thoroughly corrupted by campaign contributions and lobbying, have every incentive to create more crimes with longer sentences. That means your prison population will continue to grow. And those prisoners are increasingly being used as a profit centre for big businesses too (http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-prison-industry-in-the-united-states-big-business-or-a-new-form-of-slavery/8289). Workers who work for pennies an hour, can’t unionise, can’t refuse to work or quit, who have very few rights and to whom their employers owe nothing. The corporate dream. The rich against the rest, always.

November 7, 2013

Fuck Chris Christie

The bullying prick won by 22 points for one simple reason: The media loves the asshole. He's a typical old-school Republican: Slave to the ultrarich. They own corporations. The corporations own the media. And the media tell the people what to think. So they pass his foul-tempered, thin-skinned bluster off as honest plain-speaking and the fucking sheep believe what they're told to believe. They're told he's a moderate and they believe it because the media tell them to.

Christie might not be a gibbering madman like the current Teapublicans but he's hard-right. He vetoed a raise in the minimum wage of a measly dollar, using the same excuses corporatists (a polite word for "fascist&quot always use. He vetoed same-sex marriage and let's not pretend that dropping the appeal was some outbreak of sanity. He dropped it because he had no chance whatsoever of winning. None. Zilch. Zero. Noticing when the courts crack the gavel on your head doesn't win you any points. He's slashed the state's Earned Income Tax Credit and property tax rebates, shifting the tax burden onto the poor in a big way. He pulled out of a regional environmental deal. He cut family planning and women's health, leading to the closure of six family planning centres and his unemployment record is dismal.

He's a dismal failure as a governor, propped up entirely by the media that kiss his ass and pretend he's more successful than he actually is. He's a mirage, a phantom. All media hype with the politics of doing absolutely fucking anything to suck the cocks of the rich and fuck over the poor. For most Teapublicans, hurting the poor is an incidental by-product of their agenda, something they don;t care about either way. But Christie enjoys it. He gets a thrill from knowing that he's making poor people suffer.

He is scum and slime, propelled by a worshipful, sycophantic media. What terrifies me is that I could have said the same about Reagan and the media lied about him so effectively that he got two terms as president and the entire right-wing (and more moderates than my sanity can tolerate) have literally declared him the greatest president in history and the Second Coming (mark my fucking words, the dominant religion in the GOP will be Reaganism within thirty years).

Fuck Chris Christie. And that's being nice. If I shared my hopes for the evil slimeball, this post would be (rightfully) pulled.

October 27, 2013

About the glitchy ACA website

Of course it's buggy and has glitches. First rule of software: No matter how well you design something or how thoroughly you test it, there are always going to be glitches that you missed. It's an immutable rule of coding. They were building a website that had to handle (potentially) millions of hits and the specs were given by politicians (who generally know little about tech).

There were always going to be problems. Frankly, we're lucky that the whole thing didn't just collapse on the first day. But bugs can and will be fixed. It just takes a little patience.
October 11, 2013

Conservatism's only remaining principle...

...is despising liberals and liberalism. They don't have this level of hatred for murdering pedophiles. Just being a liberal is a crime worthy of imprisonment or death to them.

August 17, 2013

Wrestling legend comes out in favour of same-sex marriage

With WWE wrestler Darren Young coming out yesterday, someone asked Steve Austin (legendary performer and biggest drawing card in history) his opinions on same-sex marriage. His response:

“…I believe that any human being in America, or any human being in the Goddamned world that wants to be married – if it’s the same sex – more power to ‘em.”

May 8, 2013

I'm calling it now: 2016 election will be Hillary Clinton vs. Chris Christie

Hillary is an obvious pick. She's been First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. There's a clamor for her to run and I just don't see anyone on the horizon who could take frontrunner status away from her. My guess is that by 2016, her vote for the Iraq War Resolution will be a distant memory. Assuming she's the nominee, expect every scandal the Republicans tried to pin on Bill and a few new ones to be thrown at her.

Why Christie? Because of two things. Firstly, he's trying to lose weight. That will appeal to both those who are overweight and to the people who tune into the weight-loss reality shows. Don't kid yourself, a lot of people really are that superficial. They'll vote for a good story instead of a good president. Secondly, he has a type of bluntness that Republicans confuse with plain-speaking charm. I think he's a bullying prick but Republicans like to run mean guys. He's also very conservative but not a Teabagging whacko.

I could be wrong, of course, but my gut tells me it'll be those two.

April 28, 2013

I've been doing an RPG on this

I've actually been running a homebrew RPG set in this timeframe. Since it's a homebrew, I haven't fully fleshed out the background as yet but here's the Cliff Notes version of what I've got so far (minus the psychic powers and alien incursion).

Since there seems to be a determination among both politicians and a section of the public to not do anything about global warming, the oceans will rise and become too acidic to support life (at least, not anything we could eat). Homes will become much smaller and several cities will be completely lost as coasts creep inland. Much of teh public will chalk this up to the wrath of god. With the rising temprature, more revealing fashions will become teh norm. Due to increasing pressure on grazing land, most people eat a mostly vegetarian diet with only the rich being able to afford meat more than once a week or so. For a more complete overview of this kind of society, see the first half of Ben Elton's Blind Faith.

The US will split into two distinct nations. The South will be a theocracy ruled by the dictates of fundementalist (Southern Baptist) Christianity, combined with a view that capitalism is sacred. Contrary to expectations, they won't reinstate slavery but only because wage slavery is cheaper. No social support or unemployment insurance of any kind. If you lose your job or get sick and are poor, you die. Labour unions will be outlawed; wages will be low, capitalising on a population too desperate to turn down work even if it's for pennies. Most of the population lives in company-owned shacks. Public education is limited to basic literacy and numeracy. The North bans handguns and smoking outright, has a form of universal (albeit basic) health insurance and maintains friendly trading ties with Canada. Economy is based around service industries and IT. Public education, now federally controlled, is comparable to other first-world nations. Public housing is expanding but not fast enough to keep up with a rising population. Porn is banned in both North and South but for different reasons. The North experiments with building artificial islands to contain the growing prison population.

The Commonwealth becomes a formidable trading empire but the UK becomes very much the junior partner in that empire. The UK's health system has now become a combination of tax monies being paid to private healthcare providers. Welfare benefits continue to be cut, eventually leading a situation where only three months of benefits are provided. The Church of England is disestablished when King Charles chooses to take the title "Defender Of The FaithS" i.e. of religion and spirituality generally, rather than any specific denomination. With the loss of land due to global warming, most of the population are herded into high-population blocks akin to those from Judge Dredd, purpose-built to combine housing, work and recreational areas with as little wasted space as possible. Life expectancy is now around 88 and retirement age is 75. Retirement income is savings and work pension, state pension having been abolished (leading to a rising incidence of poverty in the elderly). Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have almost fully devolved powers with Whitehall only setting a UK-wide agenda on the broadest matters.

April 14, 2013

Blood & Organ Donation

Modern medicine can look like a miracle to us. Through modern medicine, we can allow the blind to see, we can replace worn-out hearts and give a new lease on life to someone who, only twenty years ago, would have been waiting for death. We can really and truly save lives and medicine does so, every single day. But these miracles rely on the donation of blood and organs from people like you. Blood donation is relatively painless and takes about twenty minutes. What are you going to do with twenty minutes? Flick through your paper, maybe have a cup of coffee? Or you can help someone live. Organ donation doesn't happen until you die. You're not going to be using your organs but they can help someone else live. I'm not going to ask anyone to violate the tenets of their faith but this is life and it is precious and it is fragile and it is up to us to save it. Won't you please, give a gift of life?

US Organ Donor Register

American Red Cross Blood Donors

UK Blood Donors

UK Organ Donor Register

Australian Red Cross Blood Service

Australian Organ Donor Register

New Zealand Organ Donor Register

New Zealand Blood Donors

April 9, 2013

It was a weird time

Firstly, you have to remember that the media, then and now, loved her. They were largely based in London and the city of London did very well because her privatisation of everything in sight made the City (financial sector) a lot of money.
Secondly, she was elected during the epic Winter of Discontent, when an overreaching by the unions had resulted in a backlash of hard-right feeling.
Thirdly, she was extraordinarily lucky to have an opposition that was determined to self-destruct. The Labour party was falling apart in the Eighties and in no shape to actively oppose her. They fell out with the unions, which cut off most of their funding, so they had no cash to fight elections; elected as their leader a man who, with the best will in the world, was too easily distracted and too prone to windbaggery to effectively oppose her. Labour wouldn't really recover until the mid-Ninties when they took a hard swing to the right under Blair and effectively ran as Tory-lite. The Liberal and SDP parties were characterised during this period by fratricidal in-fighting.
Fourth, she promised the earth and the media covered for her when she failed to deliver (the power of the media in this country really can't be overstated). The people who did well out of Thatcher's reign were the same people who had the ear of the media.
Fifth, the British Constitution means that we don't vote for Prime Ministers, we vote for parties and the head of the winning party becomes PM. While a huge amount of people loathed Thatcher, most people liked their local MP and voted for them. That meant that the Tories got a majority in Parliament and Thatcher became PM even though many people disliked her as a person.
Six, this was during the same time as Reagan was effectively telling America that greed is good, the same period when much of the world was trending to the right. We thought this was how things were done.

April 9, 2013

She was an evil monster

You didn't live through her reign of terror, I did. And that gives me every right to be pleased when a monster like that no longer stalks our fair land.

I despised her, so did most of the working class. She came to power amid a national crisis and then proceded to use that crisis to justify diabolical policies. She decimated the mining and manufacturing industries and then told us to hate the poor bastards who ended up on welfare as a result, all purely to break the unions. She stopped the free milk that had been given to pre-schoolers to aid their bone growth. She deliberately under-funded the NHS, resulting in mass shortages that we haven't fully recovered from even today. She forbid teachers to refer to homosexuality as even an abstract concept. She denied there was any such thing as society. Some will tell you she lifted everyone into the middle class, this is a lie. She simply pretended the working class didn't exist. She stopped students from claiming housing benefit, a massive effective cut to their finances. She told poor people to choose between voting and eating and then described the resulting riots as "wickedness". Her cuts to the NHS led to the deaths of both my in-laws. She defunded the mental health institutions in favour of "Care in the community" where the mentally ill were abandoned. Like Reagan, she ushered in a culture of ruthless selfishness, pretended it was good and used that to demonise the poor as undeserving of help. She used the Falklands, a war that any British PM would have fought, to prop up rampant militarism. She pushed unemployment to 10% and didn't give a toss. She supported Pinochet, the Khmer Rouge and apartheid. She wanted to put AIDS victims into camps. She intiiated the housing crisis by insturcting social housing to sell their houses off. She wanted to nuke Argentina and ordered the Belgrano to be sunk even when it was retreating. She ran her Cabinet like a dictator.

As a person (I've read her autobiographies), she was petty, incurious, vindictive, uninterested in anyone else's viewpoint and surprisingly small-minded.

I despised her. I don't use the word "evil" much because I think it's overused to the point of being meaningless but Thatcher was evil. She is far more admired abroad than she is here, largely because those abroad didn't have to live through her reign of terror.

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About Prophet 451

Opinionated Englishman.

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