Friday, September 12, 2008

Money and Filthy Hands

In my last post, “Uncle Sam's Vital Signs,” I wrote that Southern California is a ruined place, ruined by the land use, economic and development policies of an elite whose sole aim is to make money without regard for the effects of the means used to make that money. I also wrote that this elite is trying to make money from the rest of the country by making the rest of the country like Southern California. But some of the ruinous policies enacted by the members of this elite extend throughout California as a whole.

One particular example is the steady push by conservative politicians and political groups to criminalize ever-larger areas of public behavior, and to mandate ever-harsher sentences and penalties for behavior deemed to be criminal. This has led to explosive growth in the number of prison inmates in California, as well as explosive growth in the number of California prisons. And last year, California began signing contracts with private prison corporations to house inmates – something that has not happened since the mid-1800's. (Source: “Increase In Inmates Opens Door To Private Prisons,” Los Angeles Times, 24 August 2007,

The huge cost of enforcing the many “get tough on crime” initiatives passed in California is a well-known drain on the state budget ($10.4 billion in Gov. Schwarzenegger's most recent proposed budget, or 7.6% of the total). It is also well-known that the fastest-growing segment of the California prison population consists of non-violent offenders. California's correctional system is groaning under the weight of its large number of inmates, and even prison guard and correctional officer unions are now agreeing with critics of the system that it is time to reduce the prison population by implementing rehabilitative alternatives such as drug treatment and counseling for non-violent offenders.

These issues, as well as mistreatment of prisoners in private prisons and the use of prisoners as low-wage “slave labor” were covered in a recent Mother Jones Magazine article, as well as two previous posts in this blog, The Well Run Dry, titled, “Pages Of Your Book On Fire” and “The Replacement Of Petroleum Slaves.” The Times article cited above states that private prisons are now being used by over thirty states, and are extensively used by the Federal government. Other sources note that prison guard unions and private prison corporations are sponsors, lobbyists or donors to campaigns for stiffening penalties for criminal behavior, and for expanding the definition of what constitutes criminal behavior. After all, if it's easy to lock people up, that's good for business! (Sources: “Families To Amend California's Three Strikes,; “Slavery and Involuntary Servitude,” Don Bacon, Lew Rockwell,; “10 Reasons to Oppose Plans for More Prisons,” New American Media, 11 August 2006,; “Privatizing Prisons,” Center for Policy Alternatives,

It may be that the madness which infected California over the last two decades is playing itself out. But if one moves north just one state, one can find people trying the same tricks in order to make a profit for themselves. Two such people are Kevin Mannix and Loren Parks, who have introduced Measure 61(previously Measure 40 according to one source), a “Get Tough On Crime” measure on the November 2008 Oregon ballot. Measure 61 would significantly increase mandatory sentences for those convicted of “major crimes” as defined in the initiative. Some of the crimes on this list are definitely major. But some are nonviolent, and it is the nonviolent portion – especially the drug crimes and crimes against property – which would likely swell Oregon's prison roster. Those who oppose Measure 61 point out that Oregon already has stiff minimum sentencing guidelines for violent crimes, and that Measure 61 would add nothing new except to increase the severity of punishment of nonviolent criminals.

Measure 61 also enhances penalties prescribed under Measure 11, another measure sponsored by Kevin Mannix, which established mandatory minimum sentences for various violent crimes, and which was ratified in 1994. However, Measure 11 was made to apply to every defendant from the age of fifteen years and older, and does not allow reduction of prison time for good behavior. Thus a high school kid who got into a fight could wind up in prison for five years if convicted of second-degree assault. Twenty-eight percent of Oregon's present prison population consists of Measure 11 offenders. (Source: Measure 11 has cost the state of Oregon significantly, and Measure 61 would cost between $450 million and $2 billion to implement, according to various estimates ( There are no provisions in Measure 61 for counseling or drug treatment programs.

I fully believe that violent crime is a serious matter, and should be appropriately punished. But it is interesting to note that a 2008 Oregon Department of Health Services study found that violent crime, drug use and property crime in Oregon have been decreasing from 2000 to 2005 (; It is also interesting to note that in the 1990's, while Kevin Mannix was a member of the Oregon legislature, he invited Nike to move its manufacturing operations from Indonesia to Oregon in order to take advantage of the cost savings of using prison labor (“Are There No Prisons?”, Kevin Mannix has sought to funnel large amounts of money to correctional employees over the years ( In fact, a Web search of Kevin Mannix will reveal a large number of questionable ballot initiatives backed by him.

Meanwhile, there are some very good state-funded education programs which are of interest and of great use to those Oregonians who are preparing for a post-Peak world – yet these programs are now shrinking due to budget cuts. One such program is the Oregon State University Master Gardeners' education program, which gives students a fairly advanced education in organic food gardening. Another program is the Oregon State University Family Food Educators/Master Food Preservers education program, which provides research and education on storing vegetables and fruits, vegetable harvesting, emergency preparedness, drying food and herbs, canning, pickling and much more. Yet programs like these, and services like mass transit and expansion of bicycle lanes and bike safety programs, may soon wind up being sacrificed in order to satisfy what is an emerging “corrections-industrial complex” in our society – yet another example of the raiding of public resources established for the public good, in order to satisfy the greed of corporatists.

And speaking of corporate raiding, it seems that Bolivia is now experiencing a great deal of civil unrest, due to the opposition of rich land and resource owners in that country to the redistributive reforms of President Evo Morales. Bolivia is rich in natural gas, and as the world runs out of cheap, easily available light sweet crude oil and begins to rely more on heavy and sour crudes, refineries are using more and more natural gas to refine that heavy sour crude. President Morales has resisted efforts by global corporations and Western governments to remove barriers to “free trade” and foreign ownership of Bolivian assets.

So it is interesting that this week, President Morales kicked the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia out of the country, accusing him of instigating a revolt against the elected government of Bolivia. There is evidence to back up this accusation, including the fact that the ambassador recently met with some of the rich resource owners who are opposed to Morales, and a news article which suggests that the violent protests against the Morales government may have been funded by the U.S. government, which earlier this year asked Peace Corps students to spy on the Bolivian government. It is also interesting to note that Evo Morales is the nation's first indigenous Native American president, and that the rich resource owners protesting against him are white. (Sources: “Bolivia Expels US Ambassador Philip Goldberg,” The Telegraph, 12 September 2008,; “U.S. Should Disclose Its Funding of Opposition Groups In Bolivia and Other Latin American Countries,” Center for Economic And Policy Research, 12 September 2008,

Bolivia may soon join the long list of countries jacked by the rich Anglo elites in the West, particularly those of the United States, who have discovered that the Mideast is not such a temptingly easy target as they may have thought in 2001 or 2002. All this so that we in the USA can continue to drive as fast as we please, in vehicles as large as we like, stuffing our appetites which have been swollen to ginormous size by steroidal advertising.

These things are a shame. Truly, “the love of money is root of all the evils” (1 Timothy 6:10).

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