Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We’re No. 1 (in incarceration)

Ineresting story in the New York Times today. There’s a lot to chew on here and I am excerpting it at great length....

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

...The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

....It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s much higher.”

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Mr. Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. “The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism,” said Ms. Stern of King’s College.
Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.

Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.

Mr. Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville’s work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America’s booming prison population.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was talking about,” he said. “We have a highly politicized criminal justice system.”

The article doesn’t address how much it costs taxpayers to house all these non-violent offenders in our prison system, but you can be assured that it isn’t cheap.

McCain's budget nonsense

Why don’t stories like this get more attention?

McCain Tax Cuts Would Bloat Deficit Or Take Huge Spending Curbs
April 22, 2008; Page A6

Sen. John McCain is proposing tax cuts that would either cause the federal deficit to explode or would require unprecedented spending cuts equal to one-third of federal spending on domestic programs.

.... Altogether, he proposes more than $650 billion in tax cuts a year, much of it benefiting corporations and upper-income families. That includes the cost of extending tax cuts implemented under President Bush that he voted against twice.
To help pay for it all, the Arizona senator says he would cut $160 billion a year from a federal discretionary budget that totals a little more than $1 trillion. He hasn't specified where the cuts would come from.

With military spending -- about half the total -- likely to rise or perhaps stay even, most if not all of the cuts would have to come from domestic programs. The discretionary budget, which excludes entitlements such as Medicare or Social Security, covers areas such as medical research, federal prisons, border security, student loans, food inspections and much else.
The $160 billion figure is equal to the total budget in 2007 for the departments of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice and State.

The chances of cuts of this magnitude are "nonexistent," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that promotes fiscal discipline. "There's not a consensus to cut back on the functions of government that much," he said. "Those are very, very deep cuts."

When he talks about cutting spending, Sen. McCain usually focuses on congressional earmarks, home-state projects that members of Congress insert into spending bills. His stump speech mentions a museum commemorating the Woodstock festival in New York and the infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska. But earmarks total only about $18 billion a year, according to independent estimates.
Sen. McCain and his aides haven't said where he will get his $160 billion in annual discretionary-spending cuts.

Stories such as this make it clear that John McCain is not a serious presidential candidate. He doesn’t have the foggiest clue as to what to do about the massive deficits that the Republican policies of the past eight years have left us with other than to make outrageous (and ultimately false) claims that he will slash vital government programs to nothing. And even if he did, it would not be enough to cover the massive tax cuts that he is proposing we tack on top of Bush’s already massive and fiscally irresponsible tax giveaway to the wealthy.
But McCain has a “free ride” to spout these outrageous claims while the so-called-liberal media obsesses over “bittergate”, flag lapel pins and other meaningless tripe.

Republicans for Hillary!

The election results in Pennsylvania last night were just awful. You couldn’t have asked for a worse scenario for the Democrats. Doña Clinoxte won by just enough to keep her tilting at windmills for the rest of the primary season, but not enough to make any difference in the ultimate outcome of the race.
I really can’t understand why any Democrat would be supporting Hillary at this point in the race because it is ultimately self-defeating.
However, it is quite easy to understand the motivation of these Hillary supporters:

Sandra Reed of Gettysburg has been a Republican since she was old enough to vote.
But, Tuesday, she and her husband, Vernon, went to the Adams County Courthouse and became Democrats.
"We were registered Republicans, and we will always be Republicans, but we want to help Hillary get the No. 1 position for the Democrats," said Reed, 70. "So, we are switching for the primary to vote for Hillary, then we will switch back and vote for McCain."

Lovely. They go on in the article to explain that they got this idea from listening to Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh is no dummy. But clearly a lot of Pennsylvania Democrats are.

Fortunately, the Spurs won Game 2 with the Phoenix Suns last night, so I have lots to be happy about. Now if I can just blot out the whole election debacle for another month or two....

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chicken Expression

The following is a Letter that Sharon at Bluedaze has written to the Wise County Messenger in response to the above photo at a Chicken Express in Bridgeport, Texas.

Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.  — Robert Fulghum

Sometime during April, Wise County watched as the Bridgeport Chicken Express displayed the following on their marquee:

Try the Hillary Special
Two fat thighs
Two small Breasts
And a left Wing!

Let's forget about the political message — we don't care to do business with Democrats — and look at the many, negative messages this sign sends our youth.
Disparaging remarks about other people's physical attributes is acceptable behavior.
As many as 86 percent of American children are bullied at school. Later in life, children who were bullied suffer from poor self image and emotional problems while children who bully others are at a greater risk of breaking the law. On campus homicide and suicide has increased 500 percent in the past four decades.
Men are judged by their accomplishments women by their thigh and breast size. 
If a girl is born with the genetic predisposition to have full thighs or small breasts, there is little she can do about that other than dieting or surgery.
One in five women has an eating disorder and up to 20% of those affected will die as a result. Ninety-five percent of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
More than 360,000 women and teenagers underwent surgery to have their breasts enlarged with silicone or saline implants in 2005.  Any surgery involves risks, and, since breasts implants have a shelf-life, all of those women will face at least one more surgery. The risks from implants increase over time and include ruptures, silicone migration, bacteria or mold that can grow in saline implants and escape into the body, cognitive problems, pain, hardening of implants, loss of sensation, and financial burdens from repeated surgeries.
John McCain has male pattern baldness over which he has no more control than Hillary has over her breast size. Maybe he has a small penis but I'm sure Chicken Express would never display a sign denigrating any man because of physical attributes over which he has no control.

[o]ur children are watching us
They put their trust in us
They're gonna be like us
So let's learn from our history
And do it differently — The Dixie Chicks, I Hope

I hope Wise County businesses will show more responsibility and give our children a better example to watch...

Here is the contact info:

Chicken Express
802 Hwy. 380
Bridgeport, Texas 76426
Phone: 940-683-5012
Fax: 940-683-5012

Media bias exposed

The excellent investigative journalism in the New York Times over the weekend that exposed the Pentagon’s habit of programming former military brass, winding them up and sending them out to dispense propaganda disguised as “independent analysts” has gotten the cold shoulder treatment from the news outlets that have benefitted most from this scheme.
What I thought was most interesting about the article was that the first analyst featured in the NYTimes front-page photo montage was San Antonio’s own Ken Allard who is now a regular columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. But as it turns out, Allard comes out of the article smelling like a rose because he was critical of the way the Pentagon and the news outlets handled the situation.

Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, Mr. Allard recalled, he saw a yawning gap between what analysts were told in private briefings and what subsequent inquiries and books later revealed.
“Night and day,” Mr. Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

Well, good for Allard, although I have to admit I was a little disappointed because I was looking forward to slamming the Express-News editorial board with this story.
Nevertheless, Allard continues to be a rah-rah supporter of the war in Iraq to this day as is the E-N editorial board.

In other developments of media bias, CNN has decided that Glenn Beck needs more help bashing liberals at the 24-hour news network, so they have hired former Fox pundit and Bush administration mouthpiece Tony Snow to be conservative commentator. They are already featuring Snow prominently on their Web site such as this inane exchange with Larry King in which Snow predicts a McCain victory in November!

One note of good news, the Wall Street Journal is adding liberal Thomas Frank to its lineup of regular columnists. Frank is the author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”.

Spurs in playoffs

Even if the Spurs end up getting knocked out in the first round this year, their Game 1 performance against the Suns will still make it all worthwhile. I couldn’t be happier for my team right now.

Monday, April 21, 2008


It has long been clear that Hillary Clinton cannot win the Democratic presidential primary race. So what is still motivating so many Democrats to continue supporting Clinton’s quixotic campaign at this point? Obama is well ahead now in the national polls. He is regularly raising twice as much money as Clinton and he keeps picking up new superdelegates and new endorsements on a daily basis.
But in the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow, the polls still show Hillary winning by as much as 10 points.
The Democrats in Pennsylvania could do us all a big favor by finally putting Hillary’s mortally wonded campaign out of its misery. Why do they insist on continuing to prop it up just to keep this painful charade going for another month or more? Why do Pennsylvania Democrats hate the Democrats?

Of course, there is still a chance that Obama could win tomorrow and force Hillary out of the race once and for all. But I’m not going to hold my breath at this point. I am assuming she will pull out a narrow victory - but only gain a slightly larger and ultimately insignificant number of pledged delegates - and then spin it to be a major victory for her side that should totally redifine the dynamics of the presidential race. Nonsense.

We need Hillary and the Hillarycrats to abandon this futile crusade and get back on the right side. Quit doing the Republicans’ dirty work for them and start defending the party’s eventual nominee for this fall’s election. Maybe the Clinton’s will sit down after tomorrow, refigure the math one more time and come to the same conclusion most everyone else did long ago. Then perhaps they will make a graceful exit from the race and allow the party to start the healing process before we get any further into the campaign season.