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Fri, 27 Jan 2023
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Who Profits from Prison?: Louisiana - the World's Prison Capital

hands on prison bars
© iStockphoto/helenecanada
Louisiana is the world's prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's.

That paragraph opens a devastating eight-part series published this month by The Times-Picayune of New Orleans about how the state's largely private prison system profits from high incarceration rates and tough sentencing, and how many with the power to curtail the system actually have a financial incentive to perpetuate it.

The picture that emerges is one of convicts as chattel and a legal system essentially based on human commodification.


Who Profits from Prison?: American Teens Being Jailed for Having Sex or Being Late to School

prison bars 2
The case of an honors student in Texas shines light on a national problem: teens going to jail for absurd reasons.

Last week, the country was riveted by the story of young Diane Tran, a high school junior age 17, who was tossed in jail for a night because she was missing too much school.

The reason her case attracted so much attention? Tran missed those days of school--or arrived late--due to exhaustion. She worked two jobs to help support her siblings. Her parents had split and moved out of town. She became, in essence, a poster-girl for both the recession and for the criminalization of youth. Even those local newscasters expected to be dispassionate were moved to say their "hearts went out" to this girl.


Who Profits from Prison?: 24-Year-Old Gets 3 Life Terms in Prison for Witnessing a Drug Deal

prison bars
Clarence Aaron is serving three life terms for a small-time college cocaine deal, another victim of heinous mandatory drug sentencing laws.

The Ugly Truth about Mandatory Drug Sentencing

This is a simple truth: the United States is the only country in the first world that imposes life sentences to teenagers for small-time, non-violent drug offenses. In fact, the American legal system does so with alarming regularity, spending $40 billion a year to lock up hundreds of thousands of low-level dealers. The practice began when Ronald Reagan declared a "War on Drugs" in 1986, and has spread steadily since then. The following year, Congress enacted its federal mandatory sentencing guidelines, which automatically buried tens of thousands of low-level, non-violent drug offenders in the belly of the beast for decades - even for multiple life terms. Just ask Clarence Aaron, inmate number 05070-003.

At the age of 24, Aaron was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal. That's effectively three times the sentence imposed upon Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010. Aaron was a student and football player at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He'd never been arrested. In 1992, he made the mistake of being present for the sale of nine kilograms of cocaine and the conversion of one kilo of coke to crack. Aaron would have earned $1,500 for introducing the buyer and seller. He never actually touched the drugs.

Light Saber

A Soldier's regret: Don't Thank Me for My Service

us marine
© Cpl. Bryan Nygaard / U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Marine in Zaranj, Nimroz province, December 30, 2011.
I do not want to appear disrespectful or ungrateful, but should we meet on the street one day, do say "Hello," or "Fine day" or other such nicety, but please do not thank me for "my service" as a United States Marine. I make this request because my service, as you refer to it, was basically, either to train to become a killer or to actually kill people and blow shit up.

Now, that is not something for which a person should be proud nor thanked. In fact, it is regrettable, and for me a source of guilt and shame, something I will have to live with for the rest of my life, as the past cannot ever be undone. So, when you thank me for my service, it disturbs me ... a lot. First off, it brings to mind my wasted youth and lost innocence, and the horrible and unnecessary deaths of good friends and comrades. Second, it reminds me of my responsibility and culpability for the pain and suffering I caused innocent people, again something I would rather forget, but cannot. Third, it reinforces my belief that you have absolutely no idea about the nature and reality of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, because if you did, you would understand that thanks are inappropriate. Fourth, it reminds me that many of those who feel the need to offer thanks were apathetic about - or even supportive of - the war, while they refuse to participate themselves or did little or nothing to end it. And lastly, I have to admit that I doubt the sincerity of these expressions of supposed gratitude, as "Thank you for your service" is just something to say not because you care about what I did or sacrificed, but only to demonstrate your supposed good character, or patriotism and/or "support" for members of the military and veterans.

In making this request not to be thanked for my service, I am, of course, expressing only my opinion, and, perhaps, my idiosyncrasy, and I make no claim to be speaking for other veterans. I would wager, however, that many, perhaps even most, who have experienced the horror of war and have the courage and presence of mind to think about and evaluate what the war they served in was truly about would understand and probably concur with this request. Those veterans, however, who may not agree, who cling to the mythology of heroism, glory, honor and nobility of war, do so in large measure from fear that acknowledging war's reality would somehow diminish their sacrifice and the sacrifices of those whose lives were lost. Perhaps understandably, they view such sacrifices and loss as difficult enough to live with when they had value and purpose, and as intolerable if they were misguided and unnecessary. To these brothers and sisters, I would offer the following questions and observations for them to ponder.


At Your Deathbed: Last Moment Robot

Sick Woman
© David Chen
I've nearly lost count of how many ways robots are making life's carnal origins more synthetic. Whether it's robot prostitutes, kiss transmitters or life-like mechanical butts, baby making has become less human and more humanoid.

Since coitus seems to have been compromised by the bots, while we're at it, why not skip ahead to the bitter end and bookend this thing we call life with even more robots?

Laying lonely in a hospital bed wheezing your last breaths? Sad no one's there to comfort you as you slip into the great beyond? No problem.

Artist, designer and engineer, Dan Chen, has you covered. In fact, he'd like to introduce you to his robot. Here it comes now and it has something to say:
I am the Last Moment Robot. I am here to help you and guide you through your last moment on Earth. I am sorry that your family and friends can't be with you right now, but don't be afraid. I am here to comfort you. You are not alone, you are with me. Your family and friends love you very much, they will remember you after you are gone.
Not only that, as it coos those final words, Last Moment Robot will caress the soon-to-be dead with a soothing, not-at-all creepy animatronic arm.

Thankfully, Chen's robot is more of an artistic statement than a pinch-hitter for missing family members. In his interactive End of Life Hospital installation, at least Chen is conscious of the contemplative duality that his robot conjures.


28 Arrests as Protesters, Police Tangle, Clash Near Grand Prix Parties in Montreal

© Agence France-Presse/Getty Images/Steeve Duguay
Montreal police make one of 28 arrests during a chaotic Saturday night near the centre of Grand Prix festivities, near Crescent St. and Ste. Catherine St. W.
Canada, Montreal - Organizers of this weekend's Grand Prix festivities in downtown Montreal saw their worst nightmare play out on Saturday night as protesters and police clashed for two hours along one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, trapping thousands of revelers in the middle of recurring episodes of chaos.

Police reported a total of 28 arrests.

The night began peacefully around 9 p.m. as a group of about 600 protesters set out from Émilie Gamelin Park near the Berri-UQÀM métro station and made their way west, walking at a brisk pace until they ran into a line of riot police that forced them to turn south. A game of cat and mouse ensued, with officers from both the Sûreté du Québec and the Montreal police force continually blocking access west and pushing the demonstrators further and further south.

At 9:45 p.m., however, the crowd finally managing to dart up toward Ste. Catherine St. W. and into the heart of the Grand Prix party, which at that point was in full swing.

Within minutes, all semblance of order along the already bustling street appeared to collapse.

Traffic ground to a halt and the crowds - party-goers and protesters alike - flooded into the roadway.


Severed Hand Found in Gandhinagar

Ahmedabad - In a bizarre incident, Gandhinagar police recovered a human hand, suspected to be part of a female body, from InfoCity circle early on Saturday. The police have started search for the body.

According to police, watchman at a construction project near the InfoCity saw a dog chewing something that looked like human remains.

He went to the spot and shooed the dog away. To his horror, the watchman saw that the object was a hand from elbow to fingers in a decomposed state.

He immediately raised an alarm and informed police about it.


Massachusetts Town OKs $20 Fine for Swearing in Public

© The Associated Press/Steven Senne
Residents of Middleborough, Mass., pictured here, voted on Monday to impose a $20 fine for public swearing.
Middleborough, Massachusetts - Residents in a town outside Boston voted Monday night to make the foul-mouthed pay fines for swearing in public.

At a town meeting, residents voted 183-50 to approve a proposal from the police chief to impose a $20 fine on public profanity.

Officials insist the proposal was not intended to censor casual or private conversations, but instead to crack down on loud, profanity-laden language used by teens and other young people in the downtown area and public parks.

"I'm really happy about it," Mimi Duphily, a store owner and former town selectwoman, said after the vote. "I'm sure there's going to be some fallout, but I think what we did was necessary."

Duphily, who runs an auto parts store, is among the downtown merchants who wanted to take a stand against the kind of swearing that can make customers uncomfortable.

"They'll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate," she said.

The measure could raise questions about constitutional free speech rights, but state law does allow towns to enforce local laws that give police the power to arrest anyone who "addresses another person with profane or obscene language" in a public place.


Update: SWAT Team Sent in Home to Hunt for Auburn Suspect

© The Associated Press/Dave Martin
Law enforcement officials search a home in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, June 11, 2012. Authorities searching for the man charged with fatally shooting three people near Auburn University swarmed the house Monday where they believe he's hiding, firing tear gas and sending a tactical team on cautious forays inside.
Montgomery, Alabama - Authorities searching for a man charged with fatally shooting three people near Auburn University swarmed a house Monday where they believe he's hiding, firing tear gas and sending a tactical team on forays inside.

Authorities arrived in the late afternoon, and investigators were still on the scene after midnight without bringing someone out of the house. Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said they were going to continue to scour the attic, air conditioning ducts and "every crevice" of the house until they were satisfied. Still, by early Tuesday morning an Associated Press photographer on the scene saw much of the activity diminish while investigators stood guard outside.

Investigators said thermal imaging and other technology indicated a person was in the attic area of the house and that they'd heard coughing and movement. But after midnight, they acknowledged that they hadn't heard those noises for several hours. Strange said the next briefing was likely to come after daylight Tuesday.

The tactical team had searched the lower portions of the house and made deliberate moves into the attic where suspect Desmonte Leonard was believed to be hiding, said Montgomery Public Safety Director Chris Murphy. He declined to give a timetable for them to bring someone out.


'You're not special' graduation speech sparks buzz

Social media was buzzing about a Boston-area high school teacher's blunt commencement speech that told students they "are not special."

Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. told graduates "You are not special. You are not exceptional," quoting empirical evidence: