Working for the Man and other short notes

Our 24/7 news media covers fires and hurricanes pretty well, but does a bad job on major stories that develop over decades. Thursday, Salon published an article that deserved major-media attention, but didn’t get it: 21st Century Chain Gangs by Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman.

What they’re pointing to isn’t news because it isn’t new: connected many of the same dots in October (Big Business or Slave Labor? What Prisoners Make in Jail). Vicky Palaez (The prison industry in the United States: big business or a new form of slavery?) was on the story in 2008. Nobody noticed then either.

Here are the dots:

  • Compared to other countries, the United States jails an incredible number of people: 2.3 million in 2010, about 25% of all the prisoners in the world. The prison population continues to increase, even as all forms of violent crime are going down.
  • Prisons are increasingly privatized. More people behind bars means more money for corporations like CCA.
  • Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the private prison industry lobbies for legislatures to jail more types of offenders and lengthen prison sentences. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik describes CCA as: “a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.”
  • Increasing numbers of prisoners (about a million, currently) are leased out to private industry. They work for wages that are sometimes less than $1 an hour, and the workers are in no position to complain if they aren’t treated well. The old trend was to move call centers to India; the new trend is moving them to prison.

Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean was sentenced to row the galleys for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. (How else are you going to get people to row galleys?) We seem to be headed back in that direction. Why should companies pay real American wages when they can get real Americans to work for less? And as legitimate jobs dry up (or lose their purchasing power) due to competition from rightless workers at home and abroad, crime becomes more tempting.

An elaborate parody imagines what the Bank of America should say on its web site. The parody comes from Yes Lab, home of the Yes Men.

The Vatican is cracking down on American nuns, who worry too much about social justice and not enough about the culture wars. The solution? Put a man in charge: Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain.

Nuns need to learn to take their political cues from male leaders like Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, who this week compared President Obama to Hitler and Stalin.

I didn’t expect the revolution to be started by Citigroup shareholders.

A USA Today reporter investigating illegal Pentagon propaganda activities mysteriously becomes the target of an info op.

Attack those who are attacking the status quo (as James McWilliams does in “The Myth of Sustainable Meat“) and the major media (like the NYT) will beat a path to your door.  Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms (who you may remember from The Omnivore’s Dilemma) answers.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick reports that conservative judges are feeling increasingly unfettered by standing precedents. Bush-appointed Circuit Court Judge Janice Brown recently wrote an opinion calling on the Supreme Court to return to pre-New-Deal interpretations of the law, an issue that ought to be way beyond her pay grade.

An ad by Californians for Populations Stabilization features an attractive and sensible-looking young man making this argument against immigration:

Immigrants produce four times more carbon emissions in the U.S. than in their home countries.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? We don’t hate Mexicans, it’s just that letting them into California is killing the planet.

But where does that argument come from? ThinkProgress traces the 4-fold-increase calculation to a report by the anti-immigration think tank, the Center for Immigration Studies.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Center: They gave the 2004 award for “excellence in the coverage of immigration” to Lou Dobbs, for the same CNN program The Nation summed up as “nightly nativism“.

And here’s the logic of their report:

this study postulates a broad correlation between a person’s annual income and his or her annual CO2 emissions

In other words, immigrants have a bigger CO2 footprint in the U.S. because they make more money here. So this isn’t just an argument for keeping immigrants out of the U.S., it’s an argument for keeping poor people poor.

What if we applied the same logic to other groups? “Don’t create jobs, because the unemployed have a smaller carbon footprint.” or “Raising taxes on the rich will shrink their carbon footprint.”

Or why not go all the way? “We want to cut CO2 emissions by starting a worldwide recession.” But no. In any context but immigration, the message we get from the right is more like this:

Two groups that need help with their messaging. (1) a religious group:

(2) a university (click for bigger image)

I hesitate to link to this because (1) the study sounds very preliminary, and (2) the public got burned so badly by false reports of an autism/vaccination link. But a new study links autism to consumption of high fructose corn syrup.

A dissenting view comes, naturally, from the Corn Refiners Association.

Anders Behring Breivik is on trial for the murder of dozens of teen-agers at a camp run by the Workers’ Youth League of Norway’s Labor Party. A chilling article in the respected journal Foreign Policy sees him as “the tip of the iceberg in a rising sea of radical Islamophobia in Europe.”

The kids were mostly blond Norwegians unconnected to Islam, but Breivik blames the Labor Party for Norway’s increasing multiculturalism.

The Writing Center at St. Mary’s University gets schooled:

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  • weeklysift  On April 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I didn’t notice this soon enough to mention, but the nuns have replied. ” Sister Simone Campbell says “It’s painfully obvious [the Vatican leadership] is not used to having educated women form thoughtful opinions and engage in dialogue.” Something tells me the Vatican may learn a disagreeable lesson.

  • Anonymous  On April 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I do wish the crime rate/incarceration graphs showed the same time period. If the crime rate graph were 1980-1999, it would have an even starker contrast to the incarceration one. That makes me wonder what the incarceration was like from 1960-1980. Is the reporter hiding something, or just sloppy?


  • By Story Logic « The Weekly Sift on April 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    […] Working for the Man and other short notes. Private prison corporations, lobbyists, and industries that pay peanuts for prison labor have established an incestuous relationship with government. The Yes Men take on the Bank of America. The Vatican cracks down on American nuns. Environmental arguments against immigration are actually arguments against the poor. Plus links to a few other things I found worth reading this week. […]

  • […] of Corrections: In last week’s short notes I balanced the report that high-fructose corn syrup causes autism with a link to an article by the […]

  • By Poisoned Spring « The Weekly Sift on April 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    […] most popular post. It’s rare for the short-notes post to be the most popular, but Working for the Man and other short notes was, with 161 views. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailRedditStumbleUponLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

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