Friday
Aug062004

« Capital-ist Punishment »

Today I was asked by one of the many people who force me to be a leftist (by showing their rather idiotic devotion to the right) what I thought of capital punishment.

Capital punishment? Well, I haven't formed an opinion yet. As far as I am concerned there are more important things to worry about, like what the hell makes us such a crime ridden nation. My response to this dude's question was this:

Capital punishment? Hell, I'm all for capital-IST punishment!

I think that dudes like Ken Lay should be burned at the stake and stoned simultaneously. Okay, maybe not, but a couple weeks of aversion therapy at Abu Ghraib might help. Okay, I don't know what really should become the fate of these modern day men of biblical scale evil. Make that MORE than biblical scale evil. Murder sucks, but so does stealing the livelihoods from hundreds or thousands of people at a time, which may indeed lead to some crime down the road. But such is our way of dealing with things in this fine land. Wait till too late, then pay more for a substandard "solution."

There is talk I have heard about the costs of helping people learn to read, get jobs, develop self-esteem, etc. One would think, one would HOPE that maybe that cost would be justified in the results that are bound to come back. Some people need more help than others, and if it took $10,000 to get a person through any of a number of courses that would improve their lot in life, allowing them to become valuable citizens, I think it would be a good thing to do at a good price.

But no, how do we handle this stuff? We get some crazy politicians in who got elected because they promised smaller government, and with that promise, so went the various social services that actually help people. Yes, the government is out of the business of providing care and nurturing services to citizens. I have heard that, in California now, the state's leading mental health care provider is the PRISON system. The prisons house more mentally ill than hospitals or other treatment centers. Now is it just me, or is that a little fishy?

Michael Moore has done a few movies now that sort of trace the paths of the modern American worker. Roughly speaking, the path goes from small corporation that needs all the dedicated employees it can get, then a long boom period for the whole company, leading everyone to think it will be a utopia, then the plant closes down because the company "needs to stay competitive," and this leads to depression, uncertainty, financial woes, family breakdown, and some to a life of survival crime, and worse. Some simultaneously become mentally ill AND criminal at once. What is going on here that crime is so rampant? My feeling is that these people feel it is the only way to survive in a world that has chewed them up and spit them out. And, with the social services pared back, there is more untreated mental illness, less literacy, less sense of purpose in life. There are so many things that can fail when people are let to fall through the cracks. Drug use and crime are mostly the result of some other series of events and decisions. Locking people up has now become the de facto response to these offenses.

But a prison is not a mental ward. You wanna know where the money went once it left the state, county, and community services? It went to build and staff prisons. Prisons are inelegant but effective ways to keep the mentally ill out of society. The prison guard union is one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento now. But look at this... the cost to keep a prisoner fed, clothed, and showered is somewhere upwards of $60,000 per year per inmate. And, there is hardly any good evidence that that course of action does ANYTHING to make the prisoner any more prepared to be a functioning citizen on the outside, should that day come. Prison guards are paid rather well—some over $100,000 with overtime rolled in. Hmmm, we have a lot of money to pay guards and keep prisons afloat, but dwindling resources to fight the crime where it matters most: before there is a population of lost and confused citizens. Some might need help from childhood, some might need it from adolescence, and some when they lose their jobs and have to fight for their dignity when their lives are shattered because they can't hold their finances and families together.

The prison guards have no incentive to actually rehabilitate people. Hell, business is good and, instead of there being less and less work to do, there is more and more! There seems to be a symbiotic thing going on here: Companies get to pull all sorts of shenanigans like downsizing workforces, depressing local economies (Wal Mart style), and generally creating instability in the name of making a buck. The unstable atmosphere is one that creates crime, drug use, and other social ills. The notoriety of the crime eclipses the work done to prevent it, and in this stealing of the show, the answer to the question of what to do about crime is to put everyone in jail. There are a lot of petty drug offenses that are just totally uncalled for. I suppose a lot of them are small time users who try to use enough so they can forget what a crappy life they lead at dead end jobs, and the hopelessness of it all. There have got to be thousands upon thousands of dollars tied up in the prosecution of these petty offenses. But no one has prioritized the cheaper solution to fight the trend: give people a life worth living. No, its easier to just lock people up for $60,000 a year than it is to counsel them, teach them to read, help get them jobs, etc. at a far lower cost, as a preemptive measure against the crimes that would happen, and DO happen as a result of the ABSENCE of these services.

For some criminals, life is better on the inside than on the outside—at least basic needs are met more consistently than on the outside. But realize this one thing: if we are all on the inside one day, we will not have that freedom stuff we say we like so well. And what a shame, that we chose to pinch pennies where they are needed most. Or what a shame that we wanted Wal Mart here so we could save a few bucks on Chinese crap, only to find many employees can't survive on the wages, and a number of other locally owned shops were put out of business. Either way, it is a great problem for the community. Sometimes being out of work altogether is easier to reason with than working 40 or 60 hours a week and not being able to make ends meet, unless you go peddle some meth on the side.

It's greed at work, I tell you. Greed (otherwise known as capitalism) is what is sending our society down the shitter. Capital punishment is just a band aid on a chest wound. In some cases, we are killing the worst criminals for being victims themselves of a criminal class that is celebrated as the foundation of our way of life. The real problem is what happens when the bottom line comes first and foremost before the well being of the citizenry. This is a dangerous trend. Corporations give no reason why they should be trusted. They steal, they pillage, they abuse people and the environment and yet they are more powerful than politicians! If government lets go of the reigns with regard to social services AND prisons, we will literally be up shit creek without a paddle. The government, criticized by many conservatives to be too big and bloated, actually serves a purpose: to keep people working. What bailed the nation out in the New Deal era? The government putting people to work, to build their communities and the nation. The government, as an employer, has a role to fulfill, and that is to keep the nation on track when times get hard. But a corporation looks the other way; when times get hard, they put people OUT of work (and sometimes times don't even need to be bad for this to happen), which leads to even more hard times because people can't afford to live the way they did. Now that Bush has let all his corporate buddies run free, and record numbers of people are out of work, the government is a lame duck. They got elected on the strength of letting free enterprise be free, but is now stuck holding the bag of unemployment thanks to the companies deciding to offshore, lay off, close plants, etc. I think if the government can afford a war, it can afford to put some people to use in rebuilding our failed cities and towns, and restoring some dignity to citizens.

Capital-IST punishment. It will attack the heart of the problem.

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