A slice of history — an excerpt from the book “A People’s History of the United States”

Today I’m going to transcribe the first few pages of chapter one of Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present:

COLUMBUS, THE INDIANS, AND HUMAN PROGRESS

Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . . . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features. . . . They do not bear arms, and do know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. . . . They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

These Arawaks of the Bahama Islands were much like Indians on the mainland, who were remarkable (European observers were to say again and again) for their hospitality, their belief in sharing. These traits did not stand out in the Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus.

Columbus wrote:

As soon as I arrived in the Indies, one the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? He had persuaded the king and queen of Spain to finance an expedition to the lands, the wealth, he expected would be on the other side of the Atlantic—the Indies and Asia, gold and spices. For, like other informed people of his time, he knew the world was round and he could sail west in order to get to the Far East.

Spain was recently unified, one of the new modern nation-states, like France, England, and Portugal. Its population, mostly poor peasants, worked for the nobility, who were 2 percent of the population and owned 95 percent of the land. Spain had tied itself to the Catholic Church, expelled all the Jews, driven out the Moors. Like other states of the modern world, Spain sought gold, which was becoming the new mark of wealth, more useful than land because it could buy anything.

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. Now that the Turks had conquered Constantinople and the eastern Mediterranean, and controlled the land routes to Asia, a sea route was needed. Portuguese sailors were working their way around the southern tip of Africa. Spain decided to gamble on a long sail across an unknown ocean.

In return for bringing back gold and spices, they promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant’s clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor. He set out with three sailing ships, the largest of which was the Santa Maria, perhaps 100 feet long, and thirty-nine crew members.

Columbus would never have made it to Asia, which was thousands of miles farther away than he had calculated, imagining a smaller world. He would have been doomed by that great expanse of sea. But he was lucky. One-fourth of the way there he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia—the Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa. Now they saw branches and sticks floating in the water. They saw flocks of birds. These were signs of land. Then, on October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

So, approaching land, they were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears.

This was to have enormous consequences: it led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus’s report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola). His descriptions were part fact, part fiction:

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful . . . the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold. . . . There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals. . . .

The Indians, Columbus reported, “are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . . .” He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage “as much gold as they need . . . and as many slaves as they ask.” He was full of religious talk: “Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”

Because of Columbus’s exaggerated reports and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans’ intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed.

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendents left on the island.

The chief source—and, on many matters the only source—of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolomé de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba. For a time he owned a plantation on which Indian slaves worked, but he gave that up and became a vehement critic of Spanish cruelty. Las Casas transcribed Columbus’s journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies. In it, he describes the Indians. They are agile, he says, and can swim long distances, especially the women. They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.

Women in Indian society were treated so well as to startle the Spaniards. Las Casas describes sex relations:

Marriage laws are non-existent: men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth. If they tire of their men, they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth; although on the whole, Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands.

The Indians, Las Casas says, have no religion, at least no temples. They live in

large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time . . . made of very strong wood and roofed with palm leaves. . . . They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality. . . .

In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas (who at first urged replacing Indians by black slaves, thinking they were stronger and would survive, but later relented when he saw the effects on blacks) tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards. It is a unique account and deserves to be quoted at length:

Endless testimonies . . . prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then. . . . The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians. . . .

Las Casas tells how the Spaniards “grew more conceited every day” and after a while refused to walk any distance. They “rode the backs of Indians if they were in a hurry” or were carried on hammocks by Indians running in relays. “In thus case they also had Indians carry large leaves to shade them from the sun and others to fan them with goose wings.”

Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” Las Casas tells how “two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.”

The Indians’ attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed. So, Las Casas reports, “they suffered and died in the mines and other labors in desperate silence, knowing not a soul in the world to whom they could turn for help.” He describes their work in the mines:

. . . mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them; and when water invades the mines, the most arduous task of all is to dry the mines by scooping up pansful of water and throwing it up outside. . . .

After each six or eight months’ work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil, forced into the excruciating job of digging and making thousands of hills for cassava plants.

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides . . . they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation. . . . In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk . . . and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile . . . was depopulated. . . . My eyes have seen these acts to foreign to human nature, and how I tremble as I write. . . .

When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? It myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it. . . .”

Thus began the history, five hundred years ago, of the European invasion of the Indian settlements in the Americas. That beginning, when you read Las Casas—even if his figures are exaggerations (were there 3 million Indians to begin with, as he says, or less than a million, as some historians have calculated, or 8 million as others now believe?)—is conquest, slavery, death. When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure—there is no bloodshed—and Columbus Day is a celebration.

Past the elementary and high schools, there are only occasional hints of something else. Samuel Eliot Morison, the Harvard historian, was the most distinguished writer on Columbus, the author of a multivolume biography, and was himself a sailor who retraced Columbus’s route across the Atlantic. In his popular book Christopher Columbus, Mariner, written in 1954, he tells about the enslavement and the killing: “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

That is on one page, buried halfway into the telling of a grand romance. In the book’s last paragraph, Morison sums up his view of Columbus:

He had his faults and his defects, but they were largely the defects of the qualities that made him great—his indomitable will, his superb faith in God and his own mission as the Christ-bearer to lands beyond the seas, his stubborn persistence despite neglect, poverty and discouragement. But there was no flaw, no dark side to the most outstanding and essential of all his qualities—his seamanship.

One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts which might lead to unacceptable conclusions. Morison does neither. He refuses to lie about Columbus. He does not omit the story of mass murder; indeed he describes it with the harshest word one can use: genocide.

But he does something else—he mentions the truth quickly and goes on to other things more important to him. Outright lying lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important—it should weigh very little in our final judgments; it should affect very little what we do in the world.

It is not that the historian can avoid emphasis of some facts and not of others. This is as natural to him as to the mapmaker, who, in order to produce a usable drawing for practical purposes, must first flatten and distort the shape of the earth, then choose out of the bewildering mass of geographic information those things needed for the purpose of this or that particular map.

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the mapmaker’s distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.

Furthermore, this ideological interest is not openly expressed in the way a mapmaker’s technical interest is obvious (“This is a Mercator projection for long-range navigation—for short-range, you’d better use a different projection”). No, it is presented as if all readers of history had a common interest which historians serve to the best of their ability. This is not intentional deception; the historian has been trained in a society in which education and knowledge are put forward as technical problems of excellence and not as tools for contending social classes, races, nations.

To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves—unwittingly—to justify what was done.

My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)—that us still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.

Let’s stop there on page 9. Just borrowed this book this morning and I’m unsure if I’ll be able to hold onto it long enough to finish it this time around, but it’s so far piqued my interest, having previously watched the film titled “The People Speak!” based on this book. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch that, it’s powerfully moving.

Atheism is Dumb

A really good talk by Eric Orwoll. I tend to agree with what he’s getting at, much as I remain ignorant and would never be able to word my ideas anywhere near as clearly as he is able. Atheism has always struck me as being too restrictive, like the flip-side to religion. Once upon a time I came to reject Christianity because I understood it’s a mythology, not something to hang a sense of certainty on. Atheism comes along and claims its own form of certainty, much of which is proposed as standing in stark contrast with Christian theology, basically disputing that the “Y H W H” deity literally rules the universe. Well no shit, atheists — it’s mythological narrative from 4000 years ago that we today have trouble even comprehending, having grown so far away from oral traditions and religiosity that Abrahamic religions sprang from. People today want to be literalists, and I see that applying just as much to atheists as to Christian evangelists. Fundamentalists, they like to call themselves, but it’s really just a label connoting a sense of certainty in a particular belief system. I have no such certainty and am open to the world of possibilities. Much as I’ve found room among atheists to move about in my sandbox of ponderings, frequently I still am checked and reminded that my attitude is “spiritual,” as though that were unacceptable or ridiculous to them.

I reject such limitations on my personal exploration and find those who dismiss people like myself to be rude snobs arrogantly believing themselves to know so much more. The truth is that we don’t know much, nor will we ever be able to know it all. The very notion of infinity sets up unsolvable paradoxes that man’s mathematics cannot unravel in a way we deem as intelligible. Such is the conundrum of living. Some run from this realization and cloak themselves with a sense of certainty derived somehow, because they are afraid to sit with the fear of the unknown. Perhaps because it points back to human frailty and insurmountable limitations — human weakness and smallness — or at least that’s how they tend to perceive it. But this also points to human greatness, or rather the greatness of consciousness, the glory of inquiry, the fascination of life’s mysteries. We are small, but we are not so small as to be completely inconsequential. These are deep philosophical and metaphysical questions that we humans are blessed to possess the ability to wrestle with, and yet we so often run from them and hide our eyes and ears, preferring to avoid the mental heavy-lifting accompanying inquiries of this magnitude. Much easier to reduce life down into blacks and whites, rights and wrongs, yes or no, true or false — oversimplified dichotomies that keep us polarized yet bring us no closer to understanding our existence and our role in the cosmos.

Religions can be considered political constructs, because that’s what they serve to do — to encourage people to behave in certain ways, to tolerate certain conditions imposed on us from on high (whether that be from nature, as was originally the case, or from powerful elites claiming to be specially backed by God, as became common during the reign of Abrahamic religions). Philosophy gets outside of that cage and explores wider terrain, which has the potential to upset both religionists’ and their atheistic counterparts’ applecarts alike. Because the social realm is designed BY human beings, albeit influenced at one point by natural phenomenon (though to a lesser extent as time rolls on). In other words, the debate so often centers around what humans once claimed, what humans once assumed, how humans once attempted to explain their understanding of this life. But human constructs aren’t the end-all/be-all to reality. What we can see, hear, touch, and test isn’t all there is to this life. We are limited on what we can directly experience. There’s no shame in admitting that and allowing ourselves to remain open and inquisitive.

I decided to record my thoughts expressed above in a video response:

Holy shit balls, Wells Fargo!

And THIS IS WHY I continue giving that bank a hard time. Because they fucking deserve the scrutiny and from more of us.

That right there is an article posted in the LA Weekly News (March 7, 2013) forwarded to me by a close friend and fellow critic of Wells Fargo’s shenanigans. In it is told the story of a retired man named Larry Delassus who was accused by WF of owing back property taxes on his condo, though it later came to light that it was actually a typographical error on WF’s part that led the bank to confuse Mr. Delassus with one of his neighbors (wrong condo # typed in). But the story doesn’t end there with an apology and reinstatement of the prior financial agreement between the big bank and Larry Delassus.  Oh no. No, WF instead went right ahead and foreclosed on that innocent man’s home, nevermind his serious medical conditions, and rendered him homeless. DESPITE THEIR OWN ACKNOWLEDGED ERROR.

And then what happened? Larry Delassus sued the bank in turn, claiming “negligence and discrimination against a disabled person.” But while trying to get a fair hearing on the matter, poor Larry Delassus keeled over and died in the courtroom before L.A. County Superior Court Judge Laura Ellison who had already indicated she planned to side with Wells Fargo on this matter. What a complete tragedy to be raked over the coals and put under such duress like this! Which ultimately culminated in the man’s death. And I seriously doubt anyone working for Wells Fargo gives barely a damn.

It’s shit like this that breaks my heart and troubles my soul. I’ve banked with Wells Fargo for about a decade, had my student loans consolidated with them back in 2007 (after receiving what apparently was some bad advice), and I still have accounts open with them (though I have opened an account with another local bank and moved much of my money over there, with plans to move more). I feel dirty supporting a corrupt organization such as this, and yes, I grasp that nearly all banks have morphed into monsters of this sort. This sucks! This is a major problem with the economic setup we’re tolerating these days, because it is predatory and has the backing of the courts and legislation to get away with it. It’s bullshit, flat out.

And it’s not as if this is all Wells Fargo is up to. That bank joined forces a few years back with the uber-corrupt HSBC (that’s Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation — a.k.a. the biggest bank in mainland China, created back when colonized by the British, with a holdings division in the UK and offices all across the world). A banking mega-giant. Read about it (there was a good article about HSBC’s latest bullshit in Feb. 2013’s edition of Rolling Stone magazine). That alone is a good enough reason to withdraw all of our money and let that mammoth die. Ugh.

Wells Fargo and other banking shenanigans is a topic I plan to expand on as time moves on.

Looking into the Independent Women’s Forum

Tonight I decided to check into the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) on wikipedia where, come to find out, its sources of funding are listed. Definitely “right-wing”-funded. Brought in over $2M from Scaife Foundations alone (which helped fund William Kristol and Robert Kagan’s highly-influential neoconservative “think tank” called the Project for the New American Century), plus another $5M from other foundation donors including at least one Koch family foundation. When I see anything funded by the Koch brothers, I walk the other way.

What passes for conservative these days is mind-blowing. Neocons are not conservative, not in any way I understand the term “conservative” to mean. Neocons are radicals bent on uprooting nearly all traditions for the sake of reaching their individual and oligarchical economic ambitions, nevermind their lip service paid to “traditional values” and patriotism. They are gamblers and authoritarians who advocate economic macromanagement (as encouraged by Milton Friedman). If that passes for conservative today, then my and plenty of others’ views went stone-age. Paleoconservative. I’ve tried explaining to some of my more liberal friends that the “Right” has wholly disenfranchised its truly conservative constituents, though many continue handing over their votes to that side of the duopoly. Those who can’t go for either political camp wind up being pushed to a fringe and, ironically enough, labeled as radicals.

People are hopefully awakening to the corruption on all sides, bit by bit. Much easier to judge the corruption of others than of our own selves, but such is life. All I know is after looking into the IWF I’m reminded of a comment exchange on one of my video threads where someone roughly stated that the men’s rights movement will go up against feminism without relying on the government funding the feminist movement has access to, and I replied that their men’s rights movement will wind up needing “corporate-sponsored” funds if they are to compete through the ‘proper legal channels’ in this broken-down, bought-and-paid-for system. This is what I was referring to — foundations funded by wealthy families tied in with big, influential corporations with lobbying power. Apparently a few people didn’t appreciate that response, but it’s not what I’m advocating, just what it seems likely would be necessary to carry out expensive and time-consuming legal battles with a movement as entrenched and well-funded as feminism. I don’t like that reality any more than the next person, hence why I personally urge us as a society not to fall in that trap. Not fully sure what to do, but that certainly isn’t the best out of all possibilities.

When it comes to the money game, it’s just a bunch of soul-selling that winds up corrupting the players involved, because in order to raise the huge amounts of money needed to open doors and actively break out onto the big media-controlled mainstream it’s required that organizations and smaller movements align with powerfully influential entities in order to be granted legitimacy and political protection. It’s all a sham that eventually hollows out what smaller movements originally stood for as they come to be directed and swayed by major financial contributors.

But further ramblings on that topic will have to wait ’til another night.

This is not America?

A video I created last night reading off some of the figures pasted below:

Every so often I feel the need to look into the “performance” of my nation by seeing what the current federal stats and global comparisons have to show.

Beginning with the most obvious, the U.S. is leading by a massive landslide in external debt. (You may notice on the list that the UK, Germany, France, and Japan make up the top 5, China currently ranks 22nd, India 28th, Mexico 29th, Israel 38th, Saudi Arabia 41st, Ecuador 79th, and Iran 84th.)

We’ve ranked #2 since 2000 in our per capita ecological footprint, behind United Arab Emirates, reports NationMaster.com (lots of data there to check out).

We’re ranked 55th for voter turnout in presidential elections with 67.4% registered voters showing up at the polls (sourced in 2003). (And just think, state and local elections voter turnout is even lower.)

Some information I had laying around from the Common Sense for Drug Policy site in its bulletin “International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001” reported the United States as having 689 per 100,000 citizens in prison (compared to 129 in England and Wales, 77 in France, 71 in Switzerland, 673 in Russia, 101 in Canada, 411 in South Africa, and 50 in Japan). A quick glance at Wikipedia discloses the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) data from 2009 that increased the number to 743 adults incarcerated per 100,000.

BUT WAIT. Just went looking for updated info and came across this tidbit from the BJS’ “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2010” report (pg. 2):

At year-end 2010, about 1 in every 48 adults in the U.S. was under supervision in the community on probation or parole, compared to about 1 in every 104 adults in the custody of state or federal prisons or local jails.The respective rates of supervision were 2,074 offenders in the community per 100,000 adults and 962 inmates per 100,000 adults.

[All bold and underlined emphases throughout this post will be mine]

The BJS bulletin “Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009–Statistical Tables” stated on page 2 the following:

Males were imprisoned at a rate 14 times higher than females (954 per 100,000 U.S. residents compared to 68 per 100,000 U.S. residents, respectively).

. . .

Black non-Hispanic males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times higher than white non-Hispanic males (708 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents) and 2.6 times higher than Hispanic males (1,822 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents).

 

Notably, the BJS website provided data (on a page since removed) claiming that in “midyear 2007 there were 4,618 black male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,747 Hispanic male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 Hispanic males and 773 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males.” So the rate of blacks and Hispanics imprisoned is up, while the rate of white folks imprisoned has gone slightly down.

Returning to the 2009 bulletin last linked to and quoted up above:

One in every 300 black females was incarcerated compared to about 1 in every 1,099 white females and 1 in every 704 Hispanic females.

Non-U.S. citizens made up 4.1% (94,498 inmates) of the state and federal custody population.

 

Looking into information on county and city jail inmates, the BJS had this to say in its bulletin “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 – Statistical Tables“:

Males accounted for 87% of the jail population on June 30, 2011 […]. Whites accounted for 45% of the total, blacks represented 38%, and Hispanics represented 15% of inmates. Fewer than 6,000 juveniles were held in local jails (or less than 1% of the confined population).

And this is why I chose to study criminal justice. It’s worthwhile coming to the realization that our system is corrupt through and through with gross inequalities and disproportionate treatment of citizens in accordance with using arbitrary criteria (such as race, ethnicity, sex) to establish targets, furthering the prevalence and impact of institutionalized racism and sexism. Why turn a blind eye to this information when it stares us in the face?

corrections_population

Originally published at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/corr2.htm (but since removed, as apparently is the case with plenty of BJS documents).

That’s not even touching on the topic of the privatization of prisons, which is discussed here in an article by Dr. Richard Culp on the Prison Legal News site titled “The Failed Promise of Prison Privatization“:

Between 2000 and 2008, the number of state prisoners placed in private prisons increased by about 25%, from 75,018 to 93,537. In the federal system, however, the number increased from 15,525 to 32,712, or about 110%. During the same period, the number of states placing some portion of their prisoners in private facilities actually declined from 30 states to 27.

There are in practice only fifty-four “customers” buying incarceration services from the private prison industry – the three federal agencies, twenty-seven state departments of correction and two dozen local jurisdictions. Within this small customer base, the federal government plus eight states (Texas, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, Tennessee, California and Mississippi) collectively account for more than 70% of all private prison business. In effect, the market of buyers constitutes an oligopsony, or a market form in which only a few customers buy a certain good and therefore possess the power to affect pricing. The two largest publicly-traded private prison companies recognize their dependency on a limited number of governmental customers as a threat to their profitability and include a warning to stockholders to that effect in their annual reports.
At CCA, just three federal government agencies, the BOP, ICE and the U.S. Marshals, accounted for 43% of the company’s total revenue for fiscal year 2010, or $717.8 million.
The state of California, which is placing thousands of prisoners out-of-state in an effort to reduce in-state prison populations, provided 13% of CCA’s total revenue for fiscal year 2010, or $214 million. GEO Group reports that while they have a total of 45 governmental clients (customers), 4 of those clients accounted for over 60% of their U.S.-based revenue (BOP, ICE, U.S. Marshals and the State of Florida). Among those, the three federal agencies combined are responsible for 53% of GEO Group’s total U.S. revenue.

The oligopsony of governmental consumers serves to discourage innovation. In practice, government purchasers of incarceration services have required that private prison companies simply duplicate policies and procedures practiced in public prisons, to the effect that the standard operating procedures of most private prison programs closely mirror those of public prisons in the same state. Notably, none of the companies have distinct and viable research and development departments as would be expected in an industry that values innovation. Private prison companies encourage the adoption of public prison practice, rather than the development of innovative practice, by actively recruiting management-level staff from within the public sector.

[…]

Arguably, private prisons are not looking to be innovative unless it is a way of cutting costs. The most common way for these companies to make money from government contracts is by reducing personnel expenses. Because labor represents about 80% of the operating cost of a prison, much of the cost savings in private prisons results from paying private correctional officers less than comparable public correctional officers. But this advantage begins to erode in a market where private companies are dependent upon contract renewals (with more experienced staff) rather than new facilities (with new, entry-level staff). Even as labor rates vary among the states, public sector correctional officer starting salaries average $28,000 across all states with a (one standard deviation) range between $23,000 and $34,200. By comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a mean annual salary of $42,270 for all occupations in the United States (in May 2008). Public sector prison staff salaries are very low already, suggesting that it is not easy for the private sector to continue to undercut the government in personnel costs.

I plan to go into greater detail on the privatization of prisons topic at a later date.

Christina Hoff Sommers on Violence Against Women

Victims of violence are best served by the truth, I agree. It’s those same sort of statistics that pulled at my heartstrings in the late ’90s on into the 2000s when I embraced the label of feminist. And ya know, I don’t think it was an accident to put out false statistics of this sort. For as damaging as they are to men, they also serve the purpose of scaring women and eliciting sympathy from us for our “invisible” sisters who are dealing with what appeared to be a horrible societal “epidemic.” It used us by playing with our emotions and helped turn women against their brothers based on distortions of the truth.

I reflect back on my undergraduate studies when during the last 3 years my focus was on criminal justice, the plan having been at the time to pursue a double-major in that and social science. What I found in CJ textbooks and lectures was a refutation of these sorts of statistics, based on experience gleaned from law enforcement officers and federal bureaus. The criminal justice perspective implicated women in behaving violently in domestic situations, not only men, and of course we explored various criminal behaviors where women played an active role alongside their male counterparts. One crime that is almost exclusively carried out by women is Manchausen By Proxy, where typically a mother induces an illness in her children so as to draw sympathy and support from others to her own self. The more I explored that crime, the more that it became unavoidable seeing that women possess their own ability to behave very cruelly and that it isn’t only men one needs to watch out for. Many of us learn this truth early in life through admission into the School of Hard Knocks — no textbooks required.

And why doesn’t feminism say anything about this? Why did it gloss over women’s wrongdoings, sweeping them under the rug and downplaying them or finding a way to twist it into somehow being the fault of men or patriarchy? That bothered me, and it still does. Because I don’t need sugar-coating for the sex I belong to. I’m well-aware women aren’t little innocent lambs incapable of inflicting harm, so why does feminism attempt to perpetuate such a myth, as if it can stand the test of experiential knowledge attained through dealing with women? I don’t know. All I know is lies of this sort do more harm than good because they destroy not only feminism’s credibility but also that of women who’ve affiliated with and supported that movement. It’s a bad deal, a dishonest way to “help” people, if that were ever truly the motive (which I’ve come to doubt).

Toxic America: Obesity, Depression and Domestication

Another video podcast uploaded by Stefan Molyneux:

Appreciated that one.