Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The world's #1 lock-'em-up nation

Gates Of Eden -- by Chris Floyd

Beneath the thunder of the mighty cataclysms unleashed by the Bush administration -- the war crime in Iraq, the global torture gulag, the epic corruption, the gutting of the U.S. Constitution, the open embrace of presidential tyranny -- a quieter degradation of American society has continued apace. And this slow descent into barbarism didn't begin with President George W. Bush, although his illicit regime certainly represents the apotheosis of the dark forces driving the decay.

With the world's attention diverted by the latest scandals and shameless posturings of the Bush faction -- domestic spying, bribes and hookers at the CIA, military units roaring down to the border to scare unarmed poor people looking for work -- few noticed a small story that cast a harsh, penetrating light on the corrosion of the national character.

Earlier this month, the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London released its annual World Prison Population List. And there, standing proudly at the head of the line, towering far above all others, is that shining city on the hill, the United States of America. But strangely enough, the Bush gang and its media sycophants failed to celebrate -- or even note -- yet another instance where a triumphant America leads the world. Where are the cheering hordes shouting "U.S.A! U.S.A!" at the news that the land of the free imprisons more people than any other country in the world, both in raw numbers and as a percentage of its population?

Yes, the world's greatest democracy now has more than 2 million of its citizens locked up in iron cages, an incarceration rate of 714 per 100,000 of the national population. The only countries within shouting distance are such bastions of penological enlightenment as China (1.55 million prisoners, plus some unsorted "administrative detainees"), Russia (a wimpy 763,000) and Brazil (330,000), whose exemplary prison management has been on such prominent display this week.

But although the U.S. prison population has soared to record-breaking heights during Bush's presidency, America's status as the most punitive nation on earth is by no means solely his doing. Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants -- such as former President Bill Clinton, who once created 50 new federal offenses in a single draconian measure. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment -- someone else's punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue.

The main engine of this mass incarceration has been the 35-year "war on drugs," a spurious battle against an abstract noun that provides an endless fount of profits, payoffs and power for the well-connected while only worsening the problem it purports to address -- just like the "war on terror." The war on drugs has in fact been the most effective assault on an underclass since Stalin's campaign against the kulaks.

It was launched by Richard Nixon in 1971, after urban unrest had shaken major U.S. cities during those famous "long, hot summers" of the '60s. Yet even as the crackdowns began, America's inner cities were being flooded with heroin, much of it originating in Southeast Asia, where the CIA and its hired warlords ran well-funded black ops in and around Vietnam. At home, gangs reaped staggering riches from the criminalization of the natural, if often unhealthy, human craving for intoxication. President Ronald Reagan upped the ante in the 1980s with a rash of "mandatory sentencing" laws that put even first-time, small-time offenders away for years. His term also saw a new flood -- crack cocaine -- devastating the inner cities, even as his covert operators used drug money to fund the terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua and run illegal weapons to Iran, while the downtown druglords grew more powerful. The U.S. underclass was caught in a classic pincer movement, attacked by both the state and the gangs. There were no more long, hot summers of protest against injustice; there was simply the struggle to survive.

Under Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton, the feverish privatization of the prison system added a new impetus for detention. Politically wired corporations needed to keep those profit-making cells filled, and the politicians they greased were happy to oblige with "tougher" sentences and new crimes to prosecute. Now Bush Jr. is readying another front in the war on the underclass, promising this week to build 4,000 new cells for immigrant detainees -- having prudently handed Halliburton a $385 million "contingency" contract back in February to build, lo and behold, "immigrant detention centers" should the need for them arise, The New York Times reports.

Like the war on drugs, the equally ill-conceived war on immigrants will be directed at the poorest and most vulnerable, not the "coyote" gangs who profit from human trafficking -- and certainly not the U.S. businesses and wealthy homelanders who love the dirt-cheap labor of the illegals. Those for-profit prisons will soon be filled to bursting with this new harvest.

A nation's true values can be measured in how it treats the poor, the weak, the damaged, the unconnected. For more than 30 years, the answer of the U.S. power structure has been clear: You lock them up, shut them up, grind them down -- and make big bucks in the process.


Post a Comment

<< Home