Prison State of America
The first item
today is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This starts as
Prisons employ and
exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or
pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize
and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days
or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working
conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to
protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to
isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for
corporations and government industries in the American prison system
are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And
corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would
reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to
replicate these conditions throughout the society.
States, in the name of
austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items
including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting
to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and
the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of
money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once
paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store.
Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke—and being
broke is a frequent occurrence in prison—prisoners must take out prison
loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic
commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison
is as prevalent as it is outside prison.
This is just the
beginning of 3 pages that do not make pleasant reading, though
they are well-written, especially not if you realize that (1) about 50%
of the prisoners were taken on marijuana-charges (2) many of the court
trials were manifestly unfair and (3) the U.S. has by far the most
prisoners of any country.
Next, there is a
discussion of how to profit as much as one can from prisoners: the
prices of most things they can buy, from the very little money they
have, are increased, sometimes by a 100%, while the profits are in fact
enormous, and are mostly based on the extremely low pay:
prisoners may earn "as much as 1.25 dollars" an hour, but many may not
earn as much as 1 dollar a day.
Here is one conclusion Hedges draws:
Prisons are a grotesque
manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons
under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “Neither
slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within
the United States. …” And the massive U.S. prison industry functions
like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian
One of the facts this
is founded on is this:
The United States, from
1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent,
according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of
Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says for-profit companies
presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent
of all state prisoners.
Here it is to be
noted that the U.S. population grew about 20% in the same time.
Then there is this is about the payments prisoners receive, which - in
a way - explains much of the 700% rise since 1970:
In New Jersey a prisoner
made $1.20 for eight hours of work—yes, eight hours of work—in 1980 and
today makes $1.30 for a day’s labor. Prisoners earn, on average, $28 a
month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17
cents an hour.
There is a lot more
in the three pages, that I recommend you read, and it ends as follows:
As is, relative to my
knowledge, this seems a bit of an overstatement, indeed not
because of the goodness of the corporations, but more simply because
there probably will remain a considerable difference in incomes and
"freedoms" between those who are imprisoned and those who are not,
simply to keep the distinction.
Prisons are not,
finally, about race, although poor people of color suffer the most.
They are not even about being poor. They are prototypes for the future.
They are emblematic of the disempowerment and exploitation that
corporations seek to inflict on all workers. If corporate power
continues to disembowel the country, if it is not impeded by mass
protests and revolt, life outside prison will soon resemble life in
But the American prison system is awful, exploitative, and quite
inhuman, at least in any nominally civilized state.
13 Years, US-Led Afghanistan War is Officially Over but Nightmare Goes
The next item is an article by Deirdre Fulton on Common
This starts as follows:
With little fanfare, the
United States and NATO formally ended the longest war in U.S. history
with a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday, leaving observers to
wonder what—if anything—was achieved.
Over 13 years, U.S.-led
war in Afghanistan claimed
the lives of about 3,500 foreign troops (at least 2,224 of them
American soldiers) and an estimated 21,000 Afghan civilians; most
experts agree that the country is as
violent as ever and that the death toll will continue to rise. Many
say the war is over in name only.
I say, for indeed I did not know that the war
in Afghanistan had ended. Indeed, if it has - and there is a picture of
two saluting generals in the article, who may well have said so - the
following is hard to account for:
will still be roughly 11,000 American troops in Afghanistan next year
as part of the Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist
Afghanistan’s roughly 350,000 security forces. ISAF spokesman Lt. Col.
Christopher Belcher told Stars and Stripes that there would
be a total of roughly 17,500 foreign troops in Afghanistan next year,
which the publication notes is "far more than the 12,000-13,000 U.S.
and NATO officials have been saying would be part of Resolute Support.
Belcher could not say where those additional troops would be coming
from nor when or why the decision was made to increase their number."
What as it all good for? The article ends as follows,
with a quote from The Guardian:
Afghanistan, Britain has
just suffered a humiliating defeat, the worst in more than half a
century and, arguably, ranking with the worst in modern times," Will
at the Guardian.
"But the US, although
much more effective than the patronising British, was, at a meta
strategic level, wrong," he continues. "The war against terrorism,
developed by George W Bush in the hours after 9/11 with little
consultation with his own military or cabinet, let alone his allies, is
one of the great failures of the rightwing mind. The reflex reaction to
an act of mass terror was not to outsmart, out-think and marginalise
the new enemy—it was to get even by being even more violent, lawless
and vicious, leading Nato into the Afghan quagmire, and the coalition
in Iraq. Two trillion dollars later and hundreds of thousand dead and
displaced, the world is predictably much less safe for the west than it
was—and jihadism is much more entrenched."
We Better Off Than We Were 40 Years Ago?
third item is an article by Zoe Sherman on Common Dreams, though it
seems to have been published originally on Dollars & Sense:
start with my own feelings on reading the title, and keeping in
mind that 40 years ago it was 1974 or 1975: Definitely a lot
worse. Then again, I have been ill nearly all of the time (also without
any social help except for minimal dole), which does
make my experiences special, so let's see. The article starts as
Ronald Reagan, trying to defeat Jimmy Carter’s bid for a second term as
president, asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” A
conservative turn in American politics was already underway and,
campaigning on that question, Reagan rode the wave into the presidency.
Forty years into the political epoch he symbolizes, and forty years
into this magazine’s history, we might well echo Reagan’s question: Are
you better off than you were forty years ago?
It is a deceptively simple
question. What would it mean to be better off?
Sherman quickly decides - correctly, I think - that the better question
is about whether American society is better off, rather than
"you", but I do have a little problem with arithmetics: 40 years ago is
1974 or 1975, and not 1980. But OK, it also seems true Dollars
& Sense did start 40 years ago.
this is a good article, from which I will only list a number of points:
- Real per capita GDP was
$25,427 in 1974 (in 2009 U.S. dollars) and now it is almost double that
- (..) the average size of
a new single family home increased 57% from 1970 to the early 2000s (..)
- If the distribution of
income had remained roughly the same over the last forty years, then
the fact that per capita GDP nearly doubled would mean that everyone’s
income had nearly doubled. That’s not what happened. Instead, those at
the top of the income distribution have vastly more income than 40
years ago while those at the bottom have less.
- The entire bottom 80% of
households ranked by income now gets only 49% of the national pie, down
from 57% in 1974.
- More of us are working,
but the share of national income that goes to ordinary workers is
- (..) college tuitions have risen more than three
times as fast as inflation since 1974.
- Housing, too, has become
- A child born in the
bottom quintile in 1971 had an 8.4% chance of making it to the top
quintile; for a child born in 1986, the probability is 9.0%. Our
national mythology notwithstanding, mobility is lower in the
United States than in other comparably developed economies.
- Not only is income
unequally distributed, it is also, for many, insecure.
- Today, we are in a high
poverty phase: somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of the population
is living in poverty during any given month.
- From January 2009 to
December 2011 [a full 3 years - MM], 31.6% of the population spent at
least two consecutive months below the poverty line.
- The inequities of the
labor market have divided us into two categories—the overworked and the
- One consequence is that
we have a leisure shortage. Chronic sleep deprivation has become the
norm. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences,
Americans’ average amount of sleep fell by 20% over the course of the
- Over the past 40 years,
we have made some important gains in how we make use of the gifts of
nature, but our gains are nowhere near enough. Probably the most
disastrous shortcoming of all is our collective failure to maintain the
Sherman also says there were some gains over the last 40 years,
especially as regards race and gender, which I am willing to admit, but
over all, the above list of points strongly support my initial
assumption: except for the rich, almost everybody else is worse
off now then they were in the 1970ies - and please remember that the
above list of points is mostly economical, and that there also is no
reason to expect it to grow any better, apart from major changes, that
seem quite unlikely, except after another major collapse of the economy.
4. The Fight Against the Total Surveillance
State in Our Schools
fourth item is an article by John W. Whitehead on Rutherford:
This is in fact from
December 3 but it gets listed now because Rutherford was not on my list
of sites I checked daily. It starts as follows, under a quotation you
The battle playing out
in San Antonio, Texas, over one student’s refusal to comply with a
public school campaign to microchip students has nothing to do with
security concerns and even less to do with academic priorities. What is
driving this particular program, which requires students to carry
“smart” identification cards embedded with Radio Frequency
Identification (RFID) tracking devices, is money, pure and simple—or to
put it more bluntly, this program is yet another example of the
nefarious collusion between government bureaucracy and corporate
America, a way for government officials to dance to the tune of the
corporate state, while unhesitatingly selling students to the highest
Oblivious to the impact
on students’ fundamental rights, school officials with the Northside
Independent School District (NISD) in San Antonio, Texas, have embarked
upon a crusade to foist ID badges embedded with RFID tags on about
4,200 students at Jay High School and Jones Middle School. These tags
produce a radio signal that is tied to the students’ Social Security
numbers, allowing the wearer’s precise movements to be constantly
monitored. Although the school district already boasts 290 surveillance
cameras, the cards which the students are required to wear will make it
possible for school officials to track students’ whereabouts at all
times. Teachers are even requiring students to wear the IDs when they
want to use the bathroom. NISD officials plan to eventually expand the
$500,000 program to the district’s 112 schools, with a student
population of 100,000.
There is considerably
more in the article, that also notes that this is just the beginning of
a general tendency, although it exists since the early 2000s, but that
probably will grow and grow, simply because it is profitable to
those selling these totalitarian tracking techniques, and not
many protest, while those who do are severely sanctioned and
It ends as follows:
These tendrils of the
corporate surveillance-state are slowly coming to control all our daily
interactions, and our nation’s public schools are merely the forefront
of a movement to completely automate all human interaction and ensure
that no one is able to escape the prying eyes of government officials
and their corporate partners.
Eyes: Inside the NSA's War on Internet Security
fifth and last item today is an article by the Spiegel Staff - that
includes Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras - on the international site
of Der Spiegel:
from the beginning:
Encryption -- the
use of mathematics to protect communications from spying -- is used for
electronic transactions of all types, by governments, firms and private
users alike. But a look into the archive of whistleblower Edward
Snowden shows that not all encryption technologies live up to what they
again, not all encrypted messages can be cracked by the NSA:
One example is the
encryption featured in Skype, a program used by some 300 million users
to conduct Internet video chat that is touted as secure. It isn't
really. "Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011," reads a
National Security Agency (NSA) training document from the archive of
whistleblower Edward Snowden. Less than half a year later, in the fall,
the code crackers declared their mission accomplished. Since then, data
from Skype has been accessible to the NSA's snoops.
implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you
can rely on," Snowden said in June 2013, after fleeing to Hong Kong.
But this is a definite must-read
article, firstly because it is a good survey, and secondly because it
comes with some 45 links to mostly pdf-files that explain many
aspects of encrypting and spying.
As far as my knowledge reaches, this is the best single
collection of articles and data on spying and encryption.
So, I strongly recommend you to read this article (and download
as many of the data as you can handle).