28 10 2012

One of the dirty open secrets about “the land of the free” is that, here in America, we have more people in our prison system than any other country in the world.  Here’s the numbers:  as of 2010, there were 2,267,000 people behind bars in America, with 4,934,000 additional Americans on probation and parole.  Fourteen million Americans are “former felons,” who will be handicapped for the rest of their lives with difficulties in being hired or receiving government assistance such as grants or loans for schooling, not to mention the shackles on their minds that all too often  from a stint in prison.

The good ol’ USA is way out in front of the number two imprisoner of human beings–Russia.  The US incarceration rate in 2009 was 743 per hundred thousand, fifty percent ahead of the Russians and Rwandans, both of which clock in at around 560 per hundred thou.  By contrast, only 71 out of every hundred thousand Norwegians is imprisoned.  In Holland, where legal marijuana sales should , according to the DEA, have precipitated a massive crime wave, the incarceration rate is 94 per thousand…hey, maybe they’re just too stoned to bother arresting people….or too high to go out and commit crimes?  And, when Republicans say they don’t want America to be like Europe, is this what they’re talking about?  Is this really a field in which we want America to be “number one”?

Ooh, but aren’t we keeping hordes of violent criminals off the streets?

No, not really.  About eight percent of the roughly two hundred thousand people in federal prison are there for violent crimes.  That’s about sixteen thousand people.  About half the roughly 1.3 million people in state prisons are in for violent crimes–that’s about 650,000 people.  And approximately a fifth of the three-quarter million individuals in local jails are there for violent crimes–that’s about a hundred and fifty thousand people.  When you add it all up, that’s slightly over a third of all prisoners locked up for violent crimes, about 816,000 out of roughly 2.25 million, with two-thirds of those in jail, about one and a half million people, locked up for non-violent, frequently “victimless,” crimes, at a cost to taxpayers–that’s you and  me–of around thirty-six billion dollars a year.

What’s a “victimless” crime?  About half of all federal prisoners are jailed for drug convictions of one kind or another–that’s a hundred thousand people.  A fifth of state prisoners have committed drug crimes–that’s about a quarter million people.  Statistics aren’t available for local jails, but that leaves us with a third of a million of the million and a half people in state and federal penitentiaries locked up for “drugs.” Read the rest of this entry »


12 05 2012

It’s a last minute invitation, but, if you haven’t heard already, Transition Nashville will be gathering tomorrow night at 6PM at the Friends’ Meeting House, 530 26th Avenue North, here in Nashville, for a vision quest.  No, that doesn’t mean we’re going to be heading up into the wilds of Beaman Park and fasting for three days.  Far from it–we’re going to start with a local food-themed potluck dinner, and then spend an hour or so discussing “what will Nashville be like in 10-15 years?”  Project organizer Susan Shann writes

Related questions might be: How have we made our city (and ourselves) more resilient, better prepared to deal with big changes and challenges, more connected socially, more sustainable? How have our lives changed? What systems (food, energy, commerce, transportation, waste and recycling, medical, goods and services, training and education, emergency response, etc.) are in place that weren’t there before, or are somehow altered and improved? What systems are gone? How do we interact with and support our neighbors? What are we doing as individuals and families, and what is our role within the community? What needed skills have we acquired? And so on…

When I first heard of this gathering, my thoughts actually went to the “bigger picture”–what might happen in the world around Nashville that could change our circumstances?  Climate change is progressing at an increasing rate, and it is only a matter of time until the world as we have always known it changes in ways that affect our lives.

Suppose, over the course of the next ten or fifteen years, a few category 5 hurricanes go ashore in the Gulf of Mexico.  Suppose this results in Houston,  New Orleans and Mobile being largely flattened and submerged.  Suppose these hurricanes take out the few bridges that carry road and rail traffic across the Mississippi in the southern U.S.  The storms have also torn up several offshore oil rigs, spilling even more oil into the Gulf, and onto its shores, than the Deepwater Horizon accident.  With all the Gulf’s major ports incapacitated, the logistics of capping these oil spills becomes infinitely more difficult. The only good news?  No “Corexit.”

Meanwhile, another big hurricane or two has gone up the Atlantic Coast.  Miami has suffered severe flooding, and its water table has been invaded by salt water.  An exodus from south Florida is under way.   The Carolina barrier islands have been swept away, so the ocean is eating into low-lying eastern North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia, is in the same soggy state as New Orleans.  Further north, high tide and high waves have overcome New York City’s defences and inundated many of its subway and highway tunnels, crippling the city.  Both its major airports are at waterside and near what had been sea level, but the force of the ocean has chewed at both of them and they are largely unusable.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, a couple of big earthquakes have disabled the ports of Long Beach and Oakland, and sent Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant spiraling out of control, polluting the Central Valley of California, which has been the country’s fruit and vegetable garden for decade–but the switch from snow to rain on the Sierras has already cut deeply into agricultural water supplies, and nuclear pollution is merely the final straw.

The drought in the Southwestern US has continued and intensified, to the point that Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas have nearly run out of water, prompting a wave of emigration.  In the central part of the country, the drought belt that stretches from Texas north into the Dakotas has dried them up still further, and with it our country’s ability to produce enough grain to export or even maintain our heavily meat-based diet.

We could allow for the possibility that the New Madrid Fault will give another big heave, nearly levelling Memphis and St. Louis, rupturing pipelines and bringing down all the Mississippi bridges in the midpart of the river’s course, thus effectively cutting the country nearly in half.   Here in Nashville, the damage was relatively minor–but it did include collapse of several major highway overpasses in various parts of town, making those roads fairly useless.  It took state and local government quite a while to clear away the rubble, and, so far, money to rebuild the roads, despite promises, does not seem to be on its way.

The net result of so many port closures has been that the stream of imported oil into the US has nearly dried up.  This complicates both the recovery effort and all attempts at business as usual.  The Federal government still makes noise, but it took a long time to clear those rubble piles.  It doesn’t matter, in a way, except for the inconvenient dry moat that used to be I-440– because most of us aren’t driving much, and the intercity truck transport that has been the lifeblood of our consumer economy no longer has goods to haul or fuel to burn.  This will still be the case even if New Madrid stays quiet.

I’m running out of time, and will have to only mention that China is drying out, crippling its industry and agriculture, as well as American consumer society, and in the Arctic, mass quantities of methane are bubbling out of the tundra and the Arctic Ocean.  Summers are hot, the air conditioning mostly doesn’t work ’cause the electricity is mostly off, and siestas are back in style. That’s what I see happening in ten or fifteen years.   Are we ready yet?

So, come hook up with Transition Nashville tomorrow night, or the Green Party of Tennessee next Saturday–together, we can make–and carry out– a plan.

Music:  Jane Siberry, “Grace

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