“The Measure of a Nation” by Howard Steven Friedman

My Truthout review of this important book is here.


34 thoughts on ““The Measure of a Nation” by Howard Steven Friedman

  1. There are numerous indexes prepared by many different groups that monitor and score political and economic freedom in each nation around the world.

    For example:

    The annual Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom is based upon ten broad factors of economic freedom including business freedom, trade freedom, labor freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, property rights, financial freedom, and freedom from corruption.

    Although the United States has declined in recent years on many indexes, it nevertheless remains consistently in the top tier of nations with respect to both economic and political freedoms. In that sense, one could argue that we are an exceptional nation.

    For interested parties, see links to indexes below:


    CATO INSTITUTE Economic Freedom of the World






    FRAZIER INSTITUTE: Economic Freedom of the World


  2. Ernie, thank you for the interesting array of views on freedom.

    I wonder if freedom can be reduced to economic or political status. Do we have freedom from fear? Do we not fear losing our liberties to the Patriot Act, our lives to Terrorism, our wealth to Economic Crisis? So why in a country that prizes “freedom” are we still bound by fear? Why is fear the great instrument of political power, even in our land of “freedom”?

    Perhaps political and economic liberties enable us to pursue a path toward real liberation but I think our country is greatly individualistic and materialistic, and these obscurations make it difficult to see how the social disorder we perceive as a threat to our freedom is a reflection of the way we choose to lead our lives within society.

    We are all to some degree or another prisoners of our own minds.

    1. Aadila: I have no clue how one would measure or quantify “fear” to arrive at some sort of objective fact-based score. However, insofar as “fear” is pervasive within a society it would presumably be reflected in areas which can measured such as by Amnesty International and Freedom House and anyone else who measures political freedom and democratic processes within a society.

      Whether or not one agrees with the substance of the Patriot Act, I don’t think many Americans wake up every morning and “fear” going to work, going to school, going to church, going shopping, or visiting a neighbor or relative — because they are concerned about whether or not they are being watched by some omnipresent police state apparatus.

      Americans know that they are free to say or write pretty much anything they want (within the bounds of libel/slander laws), associate with whomever they want, and form organizations or become members of groups — without worrying about police state restrictions on their liberties. More importantly, if and when any violation of those liberties occurs, there is usually an immediate and vociferous negative reaction which often results in immediate intervention by civil liberties organizations like the ACLU. Witness, for example, the numerous lawsuits which have been filed (and which have been successful) concerning voter suppression efforts by the GOP.

      So while we always must be vigilant, there is no reason to doubt that our freedoms as listed in our Bill of Rights remain secure.

      1. One attempt to quantify “fear” is the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index, which ranks 158 nations on 25 indicators, including homicides, police presence, prison population, external war, violent demonstrations, terrorist acts, displaced people, etc. Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world according to this metric, while Somalia and Afghanistan score at the very bottom.The US falls right in the middle, at 88 (Canada ranks fourth, for comparison). The US’s relatively high score appears to be driven by its prison population, access to weapons, and military capability.

        None of these metrics are absolutely objective–there is room for argument about what gets captured and how it’s measured and of course social science is meaningless without a proper understanding of the larger context. I’m drawn to statistical studies of outcomes, though, because they make it harder for politicians and pundits to take refuge in nonfactual truisms (our medical system is the envy of the world) and they can also be an antidote to negative hyperbole (the US is a Fascist police state).

      2. Ernie,

        I’d love to believe our Constitution still had supreme power, but I think when the right of rights (Habeus Corpus) was extinguished with a stroke of the pen under George W. Bush’s “Military Commissions Act” no other right exists but by mere tolerance of the authorities. Does it bother you that we have secret courts and detention without trial? It bothers me.

        You know, there were _some_ people who protested against the abuses of Stalin, of Hitler, or any great totalitarian regime. Simply because we had Bush, the Vanilla Tyrant, does not mean we have a structural sound legal framework in this country any more. The merit of ACLU aside, bless their hearts, few Americans are willing to get up off their couch to do something about it. Torture is an institution in our prisons. Every possible cent most people earn, after paying for food, housing, transportation, medicine and retirement, is taken one way or the other in fees, penalties, and interest. We yawn to the loss of the fundamental rights of habeus corpus, to search and seizure, and whether or not you wish to recognize it, all telecommunications are monitorable and recoverable without a warrant in the name of fighting terror, i.e. the big Fear. The Fear big enough to wipe out Liberty.

        Has this meant the end of weekend BBQs and Little League and marching off to worship of our choosing? No. But I don’t necessarily believe that can trumpet our horns about having “freedom”, as comforting as that illusion may be. Freedom in an absolute sense is and always has been a state of mind; in polity freedom is relative, and as with pregnancy, I don’t think we can really nickel and dime our way through freedom in America. We are plainly losing our freedoms. And the rationale when we lose them is fear.

        Perhaps one may make comparisons of freedom, but I don’t think we are truly free. Look deep into the issues that motivate Americans and see if you can or cannot reduce most of them to fear of one form or another. This is not necessarily a political condition, but it is a human condition which our political system — noble though it once was — has failed to address. And of course, the root of fear is ignorance and confusion.

        Even about the very nature of freedom…

  3. It’s almost a cliche, but when you contrast FDR’s “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” to the high-level hand-wringing of the past decade, it’s astonishing. As just one small example, what does it say about us as a nation that we are too afraid to try accused terrorists in open court in New York City?

    The Bill of Rights is a magnificent document, but our levels of incarceration–more than 700 for every 100,000 people and disproportionately poor people of color–is off the scale compared to most developed nations.

    1. Hear, hear!

      The fear of course is that our justice system is too weak, either because we have no appropriate laws, or because the lines between civil and military action are blurred. Therefore force majeure must prevail above the Constitution. Just as with every military dictatorship, these political actions result from the idea that the legal principles which govern our society are no longer valid.

      While it would be a slippery slope to suggest we have become a de facto military dictatorship, it is quite obvious that the success of a legal manouver to circumvent the Constitution — by definition — shows the Constitution is respected by mere tolerance of the authorities. Therefore it has been transformed into little more than a symbolic document, much like the Declaration of Independence.

  4. Well, Arthur, what do you propose that we do with career criminals and sociopaths who have a depraved indifference to everything a civilized society believes in?

    What percentage of a nation with a population of 310 million people could be imprisoned without anybody objecting or scoring us adversely because it just seemed to be a fair and reasonable metric given what seems to be “normal” levels of human criminal behavior?

    With respect to your Global Peace Index, obviously Iceland would score at the top since they have utterly no responsibilities for anything other than their own small homogenous population. When there are natural disasters or conflicts in other nations including civil wars, or massive famines or dislocation of huge numbers of people — nobody (and I mean NOBODY) turns to Iceland for assistance or advice.

    The reason why Afghanistan and Somalia score at the bottom of the list is precisely because they are not really “nations”; instead they are tribal societies without any sense whatsoever of nationhood or a commonweal. Neither of them will EVER advance beyond the bottom of such a list.

    Even if the United States consciously decided to return to absolute isolationism and never involve itself again in ANY foreign controversy or upheaval or natural disaster, we STILL would be hated by a large segment of the world which despises Western Civilization and which harbors ancient hatreds and dwells upon perceived slights and humiliations by what they regard as imperialist powers or a representative of the Great Satan of the world. If we dare to raise an objection to (for example) a society which allows its males to murder girls or women who seek an education — we suddenly become hated all over again. Iceland faces no such problem.

    1. Not all of them are career criminals and psychopaths, though more probably are when they come out of the system than when they go into it. Our percentage of imprisoned has nearly quadrupled over the past three decades.

      A huge proportion of prisoners owe their long sentences to mandatory minimums and draconian crack penalties. In 1980, when a little more than 100 per 100,000 Americans were imprisoned, 8 percent of the federal prison population were there because of drugs. That leapt to 26 percent by 1993 and suprassed 50 percent in 2009. People of color are convicted and sentenced at a much higher rate than whites–94 percent of inmates sentenced for drug crimes in New York are black and Hispanic, for example. Of course one possible consequence of this is a historically low crime rate, but it comes at an enormous cost. The fact that one out of three young black men are in the system–paroled, arrested, or imprisoned–should trouble anyone, no matter their politics. The fact that our incarceration rate is comparable to that of the USSR during the time of the Gulags is downright frightening.

      As for the Peace Index, the biggest drivers of the US’s middling score were domestic—the percentage of the population in prison, the availability of firearms, the homicide rate, and per capita military spending weighed as heavily as the global war on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course the GPI is just one measure; as I said, others might capture a different set of numbers and draw a different set of conclusions. But the value of metrics like these is that even when you take them with a grain of salt, they lead us away from emotional finger-pointing and name-calling and force us to at least acknowledge serious issues.

      I’m not one to reflexively bash the US, but what worries me more than almost anything is the incredible income inequality that’s taken hold since the 1980s. Americans no longer enjoy remotely the levels of class mobility that made the American dream a reality for so many for so long. This is a problem that no one can afford to be complacent about.

      1. Arthur, I generally agree with your comments except that I suspect that a much greater percentage of the folks imprisoned would fall into the category of career criminals and sociopaths than is your belief.

        Here in California we have the 3-strikes law which, coincidentally, is up for revision this election. The complaint against 3-strikes by its critics is that men are imprisoned for very lengthy sentences on their third strike even when that third strike is for a relatively minor crime such as shoplifting.

        But the Los Angeles Times ran a very lengthy article several years ago which examined the histories of a large number of individuals who were sentenced for their third strike. In almost every case, their criminal behavior started as a teenager, then progressed into becoming a gang member, then they were involved in violent crime(s). In many instances, these guys concluded that law-abiding citizens were nothing more than an endless pool of potential victims.

        With respect to income inequality: Again, I’m not sure how we address this.

        After World War II, our country went through a huge economic expansion, particularly as a consequence of our dramatic postwar population growth. So, for 20-30 years we built more cars and houses, more roads and freeways, more public transit systems, more new companies and businesses than perhaps at any other time in our history. Another spurt of this boom occurred during the 1990’s. But since that time, our economy has dramatically changed.

        A few months ago, I had to replace my toilet. The plumber installed a toilet branded as “American Standard” — but the toilet was made in China!!

        We don’t seem to make very much in our country anymore. Virtually all of our clothing and shoes are foreign-made; many of our electronic products (even things we invented) are now manufactured elsewhere; our automobile industry makes most of it profits from sales in foreign countries etc. etc.

        As you probably know — more and more American companies are eliminating defined pensions and many are also eliminating or dramatically reducing health benefits for retirees. In California, we just enacted new law which overhauls our state employee pension system — and many states are ending defined pensions for state civil service positions because they just do not have the money to fund all of the generous benefits which previous generations received.

        So, while we can hope that our economy will gradually improve over time, it seems likely that we will produce more and more low-paying jobs without any significant benefits — and this may create yet more income inequality because the structure of our economy has changed.

      2. Even when I don’t agree with your comments, Ernie, I admire the thoughtfulness and precision with which you write them and the care that you put into their sourcing. You have always made me think.

        I don’t believe we’re that far apart this time, either. The exponential growth in the US prison population and its rapidly rising income inequality both stem from systemic changes in the structure of our economy and culture that are not easily amenable–and that can’t be papered over by appeals to Exceptionalism.

        The truly scary thing is that so much of the system is working the way it’s supposed to–greater efficiencies and globalism have allowed companies to shed workers, even as neo-liberal Republicans and Democrats shred the the safety net.

        Deregulation allows speculation on an unprecedented scale; bought and paid for influence guarantees that corporate gains will be privatized and losses socialized.

        Capitalism isn’t failing (it still throws off lots of wealth), but it no longer delivers prosperity to most citizens–fully two thirds of the country are being left behind. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are ready to acknowledge this, which is why, I suspect, that our politics are so mean-spirited–cognitive dissonance and fear makes both sides irritable.

      3. “The plumber installed a toilet branded as “American Standard” — but the toilet was made in China!! ”

        I dare say this suggests the American Standard is going down the toilet.

  5. Aadila: Habeas corpus has never been “extinguished” in our country.

    Over-simplication and lowest-common-denominator reasoning are not helpful for us to make rational decisions or analyses.

    Successful habeas petitions are presented every day in just about every court in our country. Most of the terrorists who have been imprisoned in our country have been processed through our court system.

    Just in recent weeks, court proceedings have been started against Abu Hamza al-Masri, Khaled al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdul Bary, Syed Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad.

    With respect to the Bush administration, Congress attempted to strip prisoners of their habeas rights in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006. In June 2008, our Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush, that prisoners have habeas corpus rights, and that those rights are constitutionally guaranteed.

    1. Ernie, are you really suggesting that after it took two years for the Supreme Court to affirm the validity of the Constitution, regarding a right that has been the keystone of our judicial system since 1215, that we have reason to celebrate?

      Let’s see who is oversimplifying.

      Appeals courts are required to grant government intelligence a special presumption of accuracy. This is odd since the very function of habeus corpus is to force the accuser to justify the detention of the accused without trial or conviction. In other words, if U.S. intelligence says someone is suspicious, that affirmation is considered legally valid and the propriety of those claims, and the methods by which the suspicion was determined, receive only superficial judicial scrutiny.

      Since July of 2010, a federal judge has agreed with only 1 of 12 detainees’ habeus challenges. Rulings by the federal appeals court, which has taken up 19 of the Guantnamo habeas cases, have reversed or remanded every case in which a federal judge ordered a detainee’s release. Habeus challenges are futile. The test of Freedom is not whether there is a habeus review, it is whether that review is meaningful.

      I am not sure what is worse, an Executive that strips away the right of habeus corpus, or a Judiciary that fails to uphold it.

      1. Aadila:

        Obviously, whenever a society feels threatened and/or is involved in military conflicts, there are always tensions between what is deemed necessary for security versus how to preserve basic rights and freedoms.

        Suppose we put YOU in charge of everything involving the Guantanamo prisoners as well as all of the persons currently awaiting trial in the U.S. for terrorism-related activities.

        Suppose you then make decisions which express __your__ understanding of how our Constitution and American law should be applied in all of these cases.

        Suppose your decisions result in the release of many of the detainees/prisoners — and, then, within a year or two, many of those individuals commit new acts of terrorism which result in the deaths of many people.

        How would you then explain your decisions — keeping in mind the anger that would inevitably result?

        Have you given any thought to what new draconian legislation might be passed (and the potential profound harm to our Constitution) which would occur as a consequence of your decisions?

        We all believe in the principles expressed in our Constitution but our principles do not exist in a vaccum unaffected by outside events and circumstances.

        And, yes, every controversy or disagreement about how to apply our laws and our principles takes considerable time to work their way through our court system. So, unless you propose that we install some different system of government in the U.S., “two years” for a U.S. Supreme Court decision is not abnormal — and, in fact, is warp speed.

  6. Ok, Ernie. As long as we’re getting hypothetical. Let’s put YOU into Guantanamo and tell us how habeus corpus works out for you.

    1. Aadila: Your comments do not address the questions I raised. OR perhaps you are suggesting that most of the detainees/prisoners are entirely innocent victims of a gross injustice? That few (or none?) of them have done anything to warrant their current status? And you would prefer that we just let all of them go back to wherever they want to go?

      1. I made no such suggestion, and if you wish to stray into hypothetics, I’ll walk right along with you into la-la land.

        I do think most detainees/prisoners consider themselves to be entirely innocent victims of gross injustice. Since habeus corpus challenges are largely futile, how do we know? Because the government says so? History shows there is a problem with this view.

        Your argument about terror and crime share a telling common thread. They ignore the root causes and focus on intervention after the fact. They focus on enforcement but not on rights. They focus on the effect and not the cause. Terror and crime did not spring up like a mushroom. They have dependent circumstances which relate, like it or not, to the American way of life.

        Mitigation of the social problems after the fact is a self-perpetuating cycle. A cycle which, by the way, makes a bundle of cash for those sellng the “solution” to problems that mysteriously never seem to go away. That is. if a military and defense budget six times of China’s and larger than the next 20 nations combined is any example.

  7. Honestly, Ernie, if your ethics are elastic enough to dispense with habeus corpus, which is a one sacred principle of fair conduct, how can you condemn “enemy combatants” for attacking non-combatants, which is another?

    I don’t necessarily think you would act any differently if the situation were reversed, since you argue for the convenience of expedient means.

  8. aadila: You are creating straw-man arguments and expecting me to argue against them. I have never stated or hinted that we should “dispense with habeas corpus” and as previously mentioned our Supreme Court has explicitly ruled that these prisoners have habeas corpus rights, and that those rights are constitutionally guaranteed. Nor do I argue for “expedient means”. I simply ask what YOU think should be done with these individuals and whether or not you think they are totally innocent victims of some police state mentality (as prevails in many of their home countries)?

  9. Incidentally, I do acknowledge that I am more concerned with the victims of criminal behavior.

    Many tens of millions of Americans emigrated to this country with no money, no education, and no job prospects (and often they confronted racial or religious or ethnic discrimination here) — but they managed to live their entire lives (both here and in their home country) honorably without resorting to hurting other people.

    So, if we should study anything, perhaps we should focus upon what, specifically, motivated those tens of millions of people, i.e. why they never resorted to hurting or preying upon other people despite their impoverished backgrounds, which certainly would not seem conducive to thriving and prospering in their adopted country. And, furthermore, what they communicated to their children and grandchildren which made them so receptive to working hard and sacrificing for the benefit of their families — instead of resorting to criminal activity as a short-cut to a successful life.

    The “reasons” which criminals advance for their behavior will forever be debated and disputed. Ultimately,”root causes” of criminal, predatory, or sociopathic behavior are not particularly relevant in terms of determining whether or not someone is guilty of committing a crime. However, those factors can be considered during sentencing and in terms of rehabilitation efforts.

    All concepts of “justice” rely, first and foremost, upon knowing the truth, i.e. did someone commit the crime he/she is charged with? If the answer is “yes” — then we first acknowledge that and, then, we can consider what is fair and reasonable punlishment.

    There is no single or predominant “cause” which can explain every criminal act. But a civilized society has rudimentary principles which must be acknowledged and obeyed if it is to remain civilized — while, simultaneously, we recognize that no justice system is perfect.

  10. Somewhere in the mythic past there is always an idyllic island where happy immigrants with their virtuous common law didn’t slaughter anyone and merely plucked from the good earth the God-given fruits of their labor without the benefit of slavery and bond slavery.

    Unfortunately it was not the United States.

    1. I have no clue what “mythic past” you refer to…but I know from the history of my own family—all of whom came here from other countries—that they did live decent and honorable lives without slaughtering anyone and without engaging in any behavior that harmed anybody.

      Nobody in my family ever attended college. All of them grew up during the Depression. My aunts and uncles eventually opened small businesses, and worked 6 or 7 days a week for over 30 years, and somehow managed to raise their families without incident.

      I also am familiar with comparable stories of many people (including my former boss, an Asian-American, who could not even speak English when he was young and who experienced plenty of prejudice and discrimination). His family came from very modest circumstances but they lived accomplished lives without ever being arrested for anything. Nor were they ever involved with drugs, gangs, or domestic violence. My former boss (now retired) put his two children through college and then helped his son open his own dental practice while his daughter became a lawyer.

      Ditto for tens of millions of other Americans. Check out the life story of the family of the current latino Mayor of San Antonio TX for yet another example of this very common American story.

  11. Well, Ernie, perhaps one could simply inquire if you would like to punish crime in America, or take steps to ensure that crime does not happen? The private prison industry has a vested interest in crime continuing to happen, as do the hundreds of millions if not more in municipal bonds that go to pay for the police. Perhaps that is why so many people who come out of prison go right back in. More money that way.

    Instead of solidifying our standing as having the largest incarcerated population in the world — including non-violent drug offenders — by beefing up the penal system, doesn’t it make sense to spend some of that money on policies geared toward primary intervention, and not picking up the pieces after the fact? These are not idle words, Ernie. Private prison companies have bribed judges to impose harsher penalties on minors to ensure they end up as wards of the state. Take a peek at CCA or Geo in their annual statements to know the kinds of risks they feel would affect profits: relaxation of immigration enforcement, ending zero tolerance drug laws, etc. Follow the money and see why America now has 25% of the world’s prisoners right here in our borders. These corporations lobby and they provide political donations to keep the fear alive…and the profits rolling in. Please re-read Arthur’s observations on the perversities of our criminal justice system because they are spot on in regard to racial and economic disparities of who populates our prisons.

    As to terror…the primary cause of jihadism as we know it today is frustration with the corruption, injustice, and inefficiencies of their own governments, who are seen as complicit with Western hypocrisies. Young, disaffected, impoverished people without education or much hope in life are persuaded to strap on bombs because their families will be taken care of and they have visions of life in paradise…a paradise that would look, in many cases, much like we live here in America. While there may be a number of wealthy terrorists, as we saw with Bin Laden, they cower in their compounds. The ones sent to die are in many cases wretched and even pathetic. If they and their families had something to hope for they would not be so eager to blow themselves up.

    Would you like to spend six times more on national defense than China and more than the next 20 countries combined, or would you like to address the past and present actions of the United States which led us to this quandary? There have been consistent calls from the political left in America to devote more resources to foreign aid. But unfortunately, US economic interests hijack this process and try to wheedle leverage for American companies and trade benefits, while the massive World Bank and multilateral loans are subsidies for unsustainable mega-projects (which again favor US corporations) and outright influence buying and political corruption. Do you think the yucca farmer in Ecuador knows or cares about how many points off Libor his country’s bonds are trading?

    The US has been responsible through its own wars or wars by proxy for some 30 million dead and 200 million maimed since 1945. Not only Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, but DRC, Mozambique, Central America, Indonesia and others. That is an awful lot of ill will, Ernie. How much longer do you think we can go on killing before the tide turns against us and we no longer can claim to be the world’s defender but the world’s oppressor?

    And by the way you realize we are bankrupting the Treasury, right? If you didn’t buy your toilet seat from China, chances are they wouldn’t buy our war bonds. I’m flush with pride at your patriotism.

    1. aadila: There is not enough space here to reply adequately to everything you ask but I will say this: you offer a false “either/or” choice. We can both punish crime in our country AND take steps to ensure that crime does not happen.

      The “private prison industry” (which is not very significant) does not have representatives in our cities and neighborhoods who solicit, endorse, or facilitate criminal activity. Those decisions are made by millions of individuals whose criminal career began years before a private prison industry (such as it is) even existed in our country.

      Do you honestly believe that a typical criminal thinks to himself or herself as he/she is planning their next crime (a bulgary, an assault, a robbery, or whatever) about the justice system infrastructure which will process his/her crime?

      JIHADISM: Oh please stop! The fanatics who perpetrate crimes such as the recent attempted murder of the 14-year-old girl in Pakistan care NOTHING about “corruption, injustice, and inefficiencies of their own governments”. Their behavior reveals a depraved indifference to human life which has not the remotest clue about what “justice” means. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, even the playing of music was considered an abomination.

      It is estimated that there are about 20,000 “honor killings” every year. Almost all of these murders are the result of male family members killing females for such things as not wearing clothing deemed appropriate by the male or the family; a female wanting to marry based upon love and not by family arrangement and sex outside marriage or homosexuality. Most of these murders occur in the very countries populated by jihadists who you think have such a profound abhorence of “injustice” or “corruption”.

      The rest of your comments reveal such profound hatred and loathing of our country that I suggest you move someplace where your sensitivities will not be offended.

  12. First, and foremost, Ernie, criticism of our country should never be confused with “profound hatred and loathing.” That’s just silly and taken to its logical extreme, leads to the same sorts of atrocities of intolerance you claim to abhor. Let’s discuss the facts respectfully and meaningfully, but without trying to poison the well, shall we? Massage that bloated vein back into your forehead and sip some tea. These are issues which can be discussed wihout anger.

    I don’t want to get into the Jihadist issue with you because it is obvious that you have your mind made up already with a great mountain of assumptions about “honor killings” and distortions about Islam that are fed by American talk radio and partisan media. This is exactly what I was talking about earlier when I mentioned fear. If I say “Muslim” you are already reaching for your shotgun. It used to be “Socialist” and before that “dirty Japs” and before that “red savages”. Swap the label, keep the fear. This is the attitude of a marionette. If you can go beyond that, let’s talk.

    Regarding prisons, I never suggested a “false either/or choice” between punishing or preventing crime. I suggested that enforcement without respect for rights is hypocrisy. Taking steps to reduce crime before it occurs makes more sense than punishing people after the fact. All the way back to Emile Durkheim people have studied why certain things occur in society, e.g. why did Catholics commit suicide at noticeably different rates than Protestants. I don’t think we can hope for a society that is free from crime entirely, but I do think we can and must take a hard look at the reasons why crime is occuring. Once crime has occured, it is already the most expensive and least effective way to look for a solution. But when we talk about interventions, suddenly it’s back to Fear again with “nanny state” and “handouts”, and so on.

    I don’t know how much you know about the American justice system or how the prisons operate. Private prisons are by far the leading source of complaints. Public or private, most are horrendous failures. And we are not talking about bad food and leaky faucets. We are talking about 18 year old kids who get raped and end up with AIDS after a non-violent drug rap, while the guards chuckle about it and say why didn’t he defend himself. Women sedated and raped by prison guards or civilian workers. People being tortured and threatened with death for filing a complaint to make sure word does not get out. Is this the kind of America that makes you proud, Ernie? This happens on a daily basis in America’s prisons, jails, and immigraton detention centers. I can provide plenty of documentation, as the issue of rape has been brought before the Congress, so please let’s not question whether this goes on, because it does. The real question is, are for-profit institutions where torture and human rights abuses go on, on a daily basis, the kind of justice system you think America needs? Do you, as an American, feel proud?

    The vast majority of people who come out of prison are so traumatized that if they had a drug problem before, or couldn’t hold a job before, the first thing they do is turn to drugs again upon release. Or they go into crime again. Putting a non-violent drug offender in a cell with a murderer or life-term sexual predator does not make sense. Torturing inmates doesn’t make sense. Our prison system does not make sense. If there was any chance prison would rehabilitate them, once they go in, we can almost guarantee the problem will contine and worsen. Why is this happening? Because our jails and prisons are over crowded with drug offenders and petty immigration violators. Because they are run and staffed by the same sorts of sociopaths you complain about. But you turn a blind eye, call me an American-hater. This is exactly the situation that Geo and CCA hope for because they can lobby and donate their way into more profitable human warehouses. They want you to think it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal. We have more people behind bars than any iron curtain, police state, evil empire, axis of terror, or whatever the jingoistic term of the moment is. Why doesn’t that bother you?

    If we can discuss facts and not stereotypes, I would like to exchange some ideas with you about what can be done to prevent crime. But let’s look at least on how to prevent recividivism. Bureau of Justice data show up to 70% of released prisoners go back in within a few years. That is proof our prison system is failing to rehabilitate and as the torture and rape data suggest, it is not for lack of harsh penalties, since we have some of the harshest penalties in the world. Or for tearing apart families and support structures for their kids, so that THEY are more likely to go into prison as a result later in life. The prisons just don’t work. They cost money and crime keeps happening. The cycle is insane.

    There are four things which have been proven to keep people out of prison upon release: 1) substance abuse treatment (and not knocking out inmates with methadone so they can be raped without complaint); 2) educational opportunities ranging from basic literacy to higher degrees; 3) job skills and vocational training so that there is a viable chance of being hired upon release; and 4) faith-based chaplaincy programs which instill a new sense of self and provide an opportunity to apply basic ethical principles while still incarcerated, so they have a better ability to cope with moral dilemmas when they get out. Torture and rape don’t. Treating human beings like animals doesn’t work. Treating prisoners like slaves doesn’t work. Saying don’t break the law again or you will come back doesn’t work. We need a different approach.

  13. And no, honey, I am not going to leave my country. No, no, I am going to do much better than that. I am a liberal, you see. Just like George Washington.

    I am going to stay right here and change it.

    1. No, aadila, your comments do not merely reflect “criticism”; they reflect profound alienation and loathing. Given your predicates, there is not the remotest possibility of “changing” what upsets you.

      I have confronted your viewpoints for more than 40 years….and nothing has changed (from your perspective) during that time.

      No serious person advocates disrespect for anybody’s rights (whether in prison or outside) but your bromides offer nothing which has not been standard rhetoric by alienated individuals (left wing and right wing) for many decades.

  14. “Given your predicates, there is not the remotest possibility of “changing” what upsets you.”

    Beg to differ, honey. Look at the changes over the past 40 years due to liberal activism. It’s not 1953 anymore. Time may leave behind those who cling to outdated modes of thought, but progress will always goes forward.

    1. I beg to differ. Your identical negative comments about our justice system and about our country were made 40 years ago by liberal activists — including myself! At that time, liberals were in the streets over our war in Vietnam (and it was common to refer to our leaders as liars and murderers) and liberals were apopletic about the conditions within our prison system and the recidivist rate — along with the absence of drug treatment programs and jobs.

      1. So let me just get this straight: you hop on Jingo the high horse about Muslims and honor killings, but state sanctioned torture and rape of at least 50,000 Americans per year is acceptable?

        Great morals, Ernie. Just great.

  15. aadila” Stop pretending that (1) you know anything about my beliefs or values and (2) that your are morally and intellectually superior to everyone who disagrees with anything you believe. The reason why nobody is interested in what you have to say is because of your moral arrogance — i.e. that only you have any respect for human life and only you are the arbiter of what governments are honorable and decent and not corrupt.

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