I’m fascinated with jails. I certainly don’t want to be in jail and I must say that my reaction when I was once jailed was far from fascination. At that time, it was wishing that the other inmates would stop talking so loud, depriving me of sleep. It was quite a few years ago, when Rudy Boschwitz was in the U.S. Senate, representing Minnesota. A group of several people (including me) were in his office, protesting the war in Vietnam. He, of course, wanted us to leave, which we refused to do. He called the police and the result was we were incarcerated for several days. What I most remember was how noisy it was—clear up to midnight and beyond.
Since then, I have read that the United States has more prisoners than all the other countries in the world combined. Does that mean there are more criminals here? I don’t think so. A recent article in The New York Times gives another aspect of the situation. The prison is the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where each prisoner is given three meals a day, and some personal items such as toothpaste and soap. Food, in addition to that provided by the prison, is available in the commissary as are email access and telephone services, all of which are charged to the prisoner.
The Bureau of Justice statistics estimates that the United States spends more than $80 billion each year to keep roughly 2.3 million people behind bars. Many experts say that the figure is a gross underestimate because it does not cover expenses that the prisoner must pay. In many facilities, basic items are sold by private vendors, often with sizable markups. In many facilities, private vendors furnish needed items to prisoners (with a percentage add-on). The Prison Policy Initiative, an organization working to reduce mass incarceration, estimates that families spend $2.9 billion a year on commissary discounts and phone calls. Families are also often responsible for paying court fees, restitution and fines when a member goes to prison.
This is but a brief look at this system. National data on how much families pay into the corrective system is rarely gathered. Until there is more study and attention given to human services and prevention, it appears that not much will change in the prison system. There is growing interest in what is called UBI, Universal Basic Income, based on supplementing incomes that do not meet a specific sum. Sounds good! Suppose that could ever happen?
U.S. Gun Violence
I have been interested for some time in the relationship of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to gun deaths in the United States, which has the 28th highest rate of gun violence in the world. In the U.S. there are 443 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, which tracks lives lost in every country, in every year, by every possible cause of death. I wanted to know how NRA members (both locally and nationally) voted on gun violence issues.
Let me repeat: THE UNITED STATES HAS THE 28th HIGHEST RATE OF DEATH FROM GUN VIOLENCE IN THE WORLD. On a state-by-state calculation, the rates can be even higher. In the District of Columbia, the rate is 16.3% (the highest in the U.S.). There are a few countries where gun violence is a substantially larger problem than in the United States. In Central America and the Caribbean area, drug traffickers and gangs fight among themselves for territory and against the police. Citizens who are not involved are caught in the crossfire. The U.S. gun violence death rate is higher than in nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including many that are among the world’s poorest.
Following are some of the anti-gun organizations in this country: Everyone for Gun Safety; Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Moms Demand Action; Giffords Law Center, Gun Violence Archive; and Upworthy. Six months after a gunman shot 26 people, nine fatally, in Dayton, Ohio, lawmakers are still at odds over the next steps to take to ameliorate the problem. There are many astounding statistics—too many for this small article. It would be interesting to know, for example, how many people were arrested annually for gun violence offenses, at what age is gun usage most popular, etc. In the state of New York, out of 100,000 individuals, 10.3% are gun owners. In Alaska, 61.7 % are gun owners, and in Minnesota, 36.7% are gun owners.
None of this information, however, is going to reduce gun ownership [or gun use].
In-depth News About the California Fires
I find that in order to understand the news behind the news, I usually have to seek sources beyond the usual sources; mainstream media too often glosses over information vital for real understanding. The recent fires in California are an example.
In November 2018, a spark from a transmission tower operated by the Pacific Gas and Electric company (PG&E) set off a conflagration that destroyed the town of Paradise in Sonoma County. At least 85 people, mostly poor and elderly, were killed; 14,000 homes were obliterated; and all plant life on 240 square miles was burned down.
When 2019 rolled around, more fires were generated and PG&E responded by repeatedly shutting off power to millions of people, resulting in the closure of schools,gas stations, food markets, etc. Meanwhile, the company’s shareholders and investors have prospered greatly, reporting $4.5 billion in dividends. The firefighting state budget had been underfunded. Twenty northern California mayors have demanded that the state take over management of the company. California prison inmates have been used as firefighters.
Climate change, rising summer temperatures and lengthening fire seasons are factors in the growing number and intensity of wildfires. These realities have to be factored in. If California does not address this issue in a meaningful way, then the problem should be assumed by Congress. A step in that direction has been made in the use of prison inmates as firefighters. Who knows—maybe a class in firefighting in vocational schools?
The Memories and Questions of History
The title of the book is provocative: “To End All Wars,” and the accolades found on the book’s cover from other writers convinced me I should read it. I didn’t read it all in one day, but I tried.
I thought it might be more or less a philosophical examination of war. However, it was the First World War it covered. I found it to be among the best, most thought-provoking and compelling books I’ve read in many, many years. It chronicles in detail the operation of the war, British attacks against the Sudanese in Africa and the discovery of gold.
To list all the most important events and famous people covered in the book would require many, many pages so I am merely listing a few of them.
1. Women were granted the right to vote;
2. The author, Adam Hochschild and Rudyard Kipling advocated for military conscription;
3. James Keir Hardie, anti-war socialist, editor of union newspaper;
4. Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, influential women suffragists;
5. King George and Queen Mary of Britain installed as Emperor and Empress of India;
6. French and German socialists issued statements of solidarity;
7. Sylvia Pankhurst organized women to protest for voting rights;
8. More than 50,000 Germans working in Britain.