Private Prisons

This Week in Doom, June 21, 2015

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 21, 2015


"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."

-Joseph Stalin

The deathcount for non-human life forms on this planet continues to mount exponentially. Numbed as we are by technology and distracted by likes, tweets, clicks and noise, the parade of deaths marches on in the face of our collective indifference. Animals inhabit another country, they are not-us, we rationalize to ourselves, so they are as free to die as they are for us to eat, as we have for many lifetimes of living atop to Great Ponzi of Happy Motoring and the Lifestyle the Petrodollar built. Fish kills. Sea lions. Whales. Birds dropping dead from the sky in great flocks. Starfish. Frogs. Snails. Even crickets, at RE's back door just recently. Each death an implicit sacrifice so that we might know something, and by the knowing, do something. Anything. Yet we stare in mute horror, and wring our hands in helplessness, appalled and humbled at the same time, as we do at measurements of the ongoing drought and find out that as bad as it is, it's worse than we thought. Yet climate change deniers continue to "teach the controversy," or otherwise distract the proles, the better to post up the quarterly profit. Even Pope Francis, el supremo of one of the most conservative organizations on the planet, has been moved to issue an encyclical calling for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.” One wonders what it will take for the calls be heeded?

Yet in the same week we celebrated the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta, that much ballyhooed first step towards universal freedom and liberty, we consider how we have created a market for prison slave labor, the better to honor our contracts with the operators, to whom we have subcontracted our moral responsibilities for rehabilitation. And yes Virginia, slavery is still happily legal for the incarcerated, a blessed state, the returns for which are much beloved by cost accountants, CFOs, and especially the stockholders.

So if you're scoring at home, this week we see a clear distinction between the moral and the immoral, the true vs. the profitable. Our disinterest, some might say, stems from the moral failing at the heart of market triumphalism and its corresponding greed, which leads to irresponsible risk-taking and a continued effort to get some unnamed other to bear the externalized costs. It is the reach of markets and market values into every single sphere of life, including those traditionally governed by moral objectives and principles. Like right and wrong. But that's a rant for another time.

I had done a really good job with this column this week, making notes for it, writing as I went along, instead of waiting for Sunday morning to spit out 2000 words.  And then, Charleston.  Dylann Roof, the self-styled "Last Rhodesian's" mass murder at the Emmanuel AME church is a tragedy, but not the stuff of doom, you might say.  And on the surface I might agree.  But the rapid politicization  of the responses to that tragedy (the NRA blames the victims,  Fox "News" and other right-wing media outlets, including most of the Republican field for President, say some variant of, "we can't possibly know what he was thinking" when Roof left behind a website that said exactly what he was thinking,  and Alex Jones, Michael Savage and other conspiracy theorists posit a "programmed government killer set loose so Obama can take our gunz") is in itself disgusting. And if the seeds of doom and total societal collapse are not to be found on the blood stained floors of that South Carolinian church, they are surely to be found in the shrunken, misshapen remains of hearts that continue to beat, inexplicably, inside too many American breasts. As opposed the the grace that has already emanated from some of the families of the victims, who have already forgiven the gunman.

Who is climate change killing this week?

 The roll call of the inexplicably dead turning up by the thousands continues this week.  But the dead aren't white male Americans, so it really doesn't matter. The dead are voiceless, helpless, and unable to respond except to die, and thus bear mute testimony  to our actions.  California sea lion pups and New England moose among others.

Let’s start with the moose. According to National Geographic, the moose population in New Hampshire went from about 7,500 in the late 90s to about 4,500 by 2013. In Maine, where about 60,000 moose make up the densest moose population in the lower 48, scientists also suspect a decline (although data is scarce).

The culprit? Our old enemy, climate change, which is giving a boost to another old enemy, bloodthirsty ticks, says National Geographic:

The reason is likely climate change, biologists say, which is ushering in shorter, warmer winters that are boosting the fortunes of winter ticks. The tiny creatures latch on to moose here in staggering numbers: One moose can house 75,000 ticks, which are helping to drive a troubling rise in moose deaths, especially among calves.

Warning: Things are about to get horrifying.

And if that's not enough, then there is this: the largest toxic algal bloom ever recorded on the west coast:

Scientists onboard a NOAA research vessel are beginning a survey of what could be the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded off the West Coast… At the same time, two other types of toxins rarely seen in combination are turning up along the Washington coast.

And in the spirit of Ron Popeil, "but wait! There's more!" Researchers find that species we normally ignore, such as snails, are disappearing at a rapid pace—another indicator of mass extinction.

For years now, conservationists have warned that Earth is in the middle of the “sixth great extinction,” with dozens of species going extinct every day owing to habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and other factors.

But here’s even worse news: That may be just the tip of the iceberg. According to new research, previous estimates may seriously underestimate the number of species that we’re losing. A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that we may have already lost 130,000 species, or a staggering 7 percent of the world’s total biodiversity.

How could we have lost so many species without noticing? It’s simple: The authors say most of these extinctions are not big, noticeable creatures such as rhinos and tigers. Instead they’re tiny insects and other invertebrates that don’t get much attention. These species tend to have very small ranges with specific habitat needs and aren’t often well studied. 

 For a more in-depth report on  how an unseen extinction is decimating our biota, see this article.

Shocking drought data from NASA

It's bad. Really bad. Really, really bad:

"We don't know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don't know when we're going to run out," said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study's lead author. "This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking."

"Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico," Famiglietti said.

What's more troubling, while westerners are conserving water in a historic drought, the Nestle Corporation is still draining western aquifers for profit. One might legitimately ask on what planet is is legal to take water from a drought zone, bottle it and sell it.

And then there are these assholes: Ultra-wealthy Californians refusing to conserve water may signal the beginning of a much bigger crisis. Meet Steve Yuhas, designated spokesman for the .1 per cent, stakng out a position in the coming class war: 

So how do you explain a place like Rancho Santa Fe, an enclave of San Diego County, where water use has gone up by 9 percent since April?

Money. Steve Yuhas, a conservative talk-show host and part-time resident of Rancho Santa Fe, explained in a Washington Post hate-read this weekend: “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he said. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas’ quote is one of many nauseatingly backwards statements in the piece on why ultra-wealthy owners of multi-acre properties—which might boast orchards, stables, elaborate waterworks, and of course, bright sweeps of lawn—deserve more sympathy and fewer penalties.

Add entitlement syndrome, as predictable as sunrise:

Still, for the “1 percent”… a limitless sense of entitlement plus a limitless supply of funds is a powerful combination. With California’s groundwater regulations years away from taking effect, what’s to stop deep-pocketed homeowners from digging their own wells? Or trucking in water? Or striking deals with local politicians? One ultra-wealthy resident compares his sprawling lawns to his Chevy Suburban: He can afford to pay for copious amounts water and gas, so who’s to say it’s not his right to do so?

It’s a chilling analogy, because many predict that water shortages, exacerbated by climate change, are going to cause global warfare similar to the way oil has. Water and oil are both highly limited resources. Yet water, unlike oil, is a human right—for Californians and for the 750 million who live without access to clean water worldwide. The attitude that money can, and should, buy any quantity of water isn’t common yet in California, but as droughts become longer and more dire all over the planet, it will likely spread. And the gap between who can drink freely and who cannot will grow.

Laudato Si


This week, Pope Francisco released his much anticipated and relentlessly leaked enclyclical, Laudato Si, or Praised Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home,” which was developed over the past year with the input of dozens of scientists, scholars, theologians and over the objections of opponents such as The Heartland Institute. In the encyclical, Francis aligns himself firmly alongside the environmental movement and its objectives and with the Church's traditional reverence for life. While acknowledging some natural causes of global warming are possible, the Pope asserted that climate change is mostly a human-made problem, one of the “principal challenges facing humanity.”  Pope Francis calls on citizens, politicians, business leaders, organizations—in short, all of us—to act immediately and decisively to stop climate change, renew our relationship with Nature, and “enter a dialogue with all people about our common home.”

Some excerpts, which speak eloquently on their own:

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” he wrote. “Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of the global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … given off above all because of human activity.”


“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. … A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”


“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.”

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”


“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.”


“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever.”

We “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”


“One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor…. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.”

The usual butthurt bleatings have been heard from  fossil fuel apologists, climate change deniers, and the pols and campaign-donation-receivers-in-becoming who love them.  A representative sampling of tweets from paid shill Steven Milloy sets the tone for the critics:

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.35.01 AM

Praised Be to You, Pope Francisco. Steven Milloy and his ilk notwithstanding, the world is with you, for reaffirming climate change as a moral issue and as part of the Church's support for the sanctity of life.

The Modernized Slave Labor System: Also Known as the Prison Industrial Complex

When you create a market for prisoners, as many states have through subcontracting corrections to for-profit third parties, you get distortions. In basic humanity.  During a week where the environment gets attention front and center, business usual continues in some of the darkest corners of the human soul.

The United States prison system, not only a machine for mass incarceration, but a machine for modernized slave labor. The United States has 5% of the worlds population, yet we have 25% of the world's prison population. Land of the free right?
It would seem the statistics say otherwise, since the official drug war president Nixon announced in the 70’s, our prison population has grown over 700%! Recent estimates put our prison population to well over 2.4 million inmates. 50% of the federal prison inmates are for non violent drug offenses. All the while 20% of state prison inmates are drug related.


Is this making Americans safer, or is there an entire industry making money off of imprisoning human beings? It’s estimated that nearly 1 million convicts fill the ranks of Unicor. Unicor being the government owned corporation that handles the labor of inmates! It’s no doubt the federal government sees an opportunity in prison labor, as they have used Unicor to have $100 million worth of military uniforms made for as little as $2 an hour. The government has no problem with using prison labor, and Unicor is estimated at raking in over $900 million a year.

McDonald’s, Walmart, AT&T, Chevron, and IBM are just the names of a few companies that support the use of prison labor

And wha could be more profitable than legalized slavery?

The Magna Carta turns 800 

The Magna Carta turned 800 years old on Monday.  Known as the "Great Charter," it is widely considered the foundation of parliamentary democracy, human rights and the supremacy of the law over the crown. Signed in Runnymede in 1215, and originally drafted to forge an uneasy peace between an unpopular King John and a group of rebel barons tired of tribute and excessive taxation to fund Joh's endless wars to restore his lands in France. The document promised protection of church rights,  for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on how much the Crown could exact. Then as now, neither side stood behind their commitments. Research has shown that the Magna Carta was much more about the relationship between the monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, but the document still resonates as a symbol of the primacy of the rule of law over the rule of men.

In an interview on Democracy Now, Peter Linebaugh weighed in , as did Paul Craig Roberts separately.

A number of legal scholars have made the irrelevant point that the Magna Carta protected rights of the Church, nobles, and free men who were not enserfed, a small percentage of the population in the early 13th century. We hear the same about the US Constitution — it was something the rich did for themselves. I have no sympathy for debunking human achievements that, in the end, gave ordinary people liberty.

At Runnymede in 1215, no one but the armed barons had the power and audacity to make King John submit to law. The rule of law, not the rule of the sovereign or of the executive branch in Washington acceded to by a cowardly and corrupt Congress and Supreme Court, is a human achievement that grew out of the Magna Carta over the centuries, with ups and downs of course.

I get that argument and am not unsympathetic. Speaking to Amy Goodman, Linebaugh said,

Both the big charter and the little charter depend and recognize the 90 percent of the people of England who were serfs and poor people and foresters and commoners. Amy, it took about 40 serfs to produce the food just for one horse of those barons and those knights. So while it was a document settling scores in the ruling class, that ruling class had to recognize the principle of the commons and had to recognize—well, in fact, it abolished capital punishment for killing of deer in the forests of England, a great step forward. It prohibited the disparagement of women. Its seventh chapter called for estovers of the widow in the common. Basically, it meant that she could have her fuel, she could have tools, she could have repairs for her house from the forest. And remember that the forest and woods, that was the petroleum of that epoch. That is, so many materials, so much wealth came exclusively from wood. So, for a woman or a widow, in particular, to have access to the commons meant survival.

We can criticize the Magna Carta as being by nobles for nobles in the same way we can criticize the Declarations's authors for the same reasons. And we do. Yet for all that, a document which gives rise to these words can only be so bad:

"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights … or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land."


“Wherefore we wish and firmly command that the English Church shall be free and that men in our kingdom have and hold all such aforesaid liberties, rights and grants, well and in peace, freely and quietly, fully and completely, for themselves and their heirs, in all things and in all places, in perpetuity.”

Yet no one to date has satisfactorily explained the remedy when one class of "free men" "seizes" or "deprives of standing" another smaller, poorer free man. Some call that the role of government, via regulation, that anathema to corporatists and free-marketeers everywhere. Yet those laws and regulations are what we use instead of resorting to lampposts and 40 feet of sturdy nylon rope. Good words to go out on this week.

banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and quit barking and got off the porch long enough to be active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with his new bride Contrary in a triumph of hope over experience, and is grateful that he is not yet taking a dirt nap.


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