USDA Funded Prisons = Rural Development?

It is no secret that the United States of America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In fact, if we treat individual states as countries and compare them to the rest of the world, the top thirty spots would be held by individual states, even the lowest ranked state ends up 58th in the world, and the other eight countries in that list are not exactly countries that have shining human rights reputations: El Salvador, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Thailand, Rawanda, Russia, Panama, Coast Rica, and Brazil. This is a rather authoritarian group of countries that experience high levels of violent crime. In fact, El Salvador, Russia, Panama, and Brazil all have murder rates that are double that of the United States, and yet the US incarcerates more people.

According to the Bureau of Prison (BOP) statistics, the 46.1% of individuals incarcerated by the state are charged with “drug offenses,” followed distantly by “weapons, explosives and arson” at 17.9%, and in third place making up 9% of the incarcerated population are “sex offenses.” What is curious about this list is that each one of these categories undoubtedly holds a percentage of non-violent criminals: individuals using drugs, someone with an “illegal” gun, or those engaging in prostitution or otherwise consensual sex. In fact, the first category of crimes the BOP lists that consists solely of crimes with an apparent victim is “extortion, fraud, and bribery” with 6.4% of the population.

When we see that we are locking up a disproportionate amount of victimless drug crimes, as well as, other potentially non-violent crimes and that our incarceration rate outpaces the rest of the world (including all sorts of third world “shit holes”), we have to wonder, just what is going on. There is any number of reasons out there as to why we have such a high incarceration rate with some folks blaming it on a lack of present day education, and others seeing it as a throwback to our Puritan roots.

But when it is all distilled down, we see that our penal system is not one of correction, but one of corporatism and monopolistic force, backed up by the long arm of the law, not just by creating a War on Drugs and implementing draconian sentences, but also incentivizing incarceration by awarding contracts and providing funds to build new and bigger prisons.

In 1972, under President Nixon, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (Con Act) was passed as a sort of safety net for areas dependent on agriculture, timber, mining, and other rural economies that were starting to lag. Since 1996, starting under President Bill Clinton, the Con Act has lended over $360 million to build prisons in rural areas, as they consider the construction of a prison as “rural development.” On the surface, this may seem well intended: we will always have prisoners, prisoners don’t stop during recessions, a prison can create numerous jobs - especially considering second tier businesses needed to support the demands of prison workers, but of course, this is only surface level. Many prison towns that have received federal money to build prisons have dealt with negative ramifications, some have actually lost money, and once a town becomes a prison town, it is near impossible to go back; there is no upgrading from a prison town to a web development town, or a tourist town. It seems that no matter what side of the prison system an entity gets involved with, there is no complete breaking free.

While many of these prisons are touted as being “private prisons,” the fact remains that the money to build the prisons is provided by the federal government and leaves little room for negotiation when it comes to policies that might actually help these prison-towns prosper. A prison is typically built with the idea that it will provide x-number of jobs, but once construction has been finished residents quickly realize that a good proportion of those jobs will be going to individuals already working for the prison firm and often go to non-residents, and even in those jobs that are actually created, there is a high level of turnover, and with the massive loan that the town and state needs to pay back, there is little recourse.

Unfortunately, even in areas where prisons do create economic development, many problems still arise, both political and moral. While it may be changing, when the census is taken, the prison population is included, creating a skewed view of the voting population (as prisoners do not vote) when it comes time to redraw districts and award electoral votes, especially considering that many of these prisoners do not come from the rural towns they are serving time in, or sometimes, even the same state. This creates political incentive for governors and congressmen to advocate for these federally funded prisons and keep beds filled, especially in areas that typically vote one way or the other. There has been some effort to change this, but it seems to be a slow going process.
Really, though, the biggest problem with our current model is the moral dilemma it places on areas that have become home to federally funded, corporatist prisons: empty beds do not pay. Many times, in fact, states will be on a contract that regulates prison occupancy, so now these rural communities that took federal loans through the Con Act are not only responsible for paying them back, but they are also responsible for keeping incarceration high. This incentivizes incarceration rates for all involved in the prison system, from police officers to prosecutors to probation boards. Unfortunately, this is not all conjecture as we have seen it happen with judges being indicted for racketeering.

And yet, despite having the highest incarceration rate in the world, despite having contracts with the State that regulate occupancy, despite a fading war on marijuana, despite the country being hopelessly in debt, despite politicians’ inability to pass a budget, the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act continues to dole out funds from the USDA budget to governors and towns advocating for bigger prisons. This is not rural development. These are not private prisons. They are prisons funded and regulated and incentivized by the Federal Government.

Forced Sharing is Socialist Indoctrination

No matter where on the political spectrum you fall, it is fairly well accepted that the public education system leans to the left; some simply accept this, others get angry, and still some enroll their children in private schools or even try their hand at homeschooling. Many of the latter accuse the schools of indoctrinating children into Statism or even Socialism. And while this may have some truth to it, there are some things parents do without recognizing that they are, in fact, indoctrinating their children into socialism right from their own home.

Most everyone has heard the little catch phrase before: “sharing is caring,” and while to some degree, it is, sharing can actually be rather sinister. The problem with sharing, is that it can diminish the importance of private property, individual ownership, and voluntary interactions.

In a classroom, most of the toys used are bought by the school or the teacher, they do not belong to the children and it is up to the administrators to make the rules surrounding how toys are shared. However, in the home, toys are usually purchased by an individual for a specific individual. At my house we have a few of those toys meant for large group play, specifically, a rickety jungle gym with a little climbing wall, a slide and two swings; we also have four children. This creates problems. We often resolve these problems by introducing a new object, or suggesting they take turns, but we do not actually force our children to get off a swing and give it to a sibling. Usually the suggestion to share is enough to persuade our children to behave differently, and if it’s not, we might lean a little harder with shoe-on-the-other-foot examples, but we never force a child off the swing.

We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.
And then we also have those individual toys: the Batman action figure Grandma sent down, or the iPod Santa left behind. Too often, parents allow a child-owner of a toy to use the object, but when a sibling or friend wants to use it, the child-owner is forced into sharing. If you do not share, there are consequences that may involve time out, or shuttering of the toy, of course this is after the child that made the request to share has been given the object of their desire against the will of the owner. It may not seem like a big deal, after all, I am the parent and children should learn to listen to authority figures, right? But consider the message and the moral you are sharing: “It is okay for an authority figure to force someone to give up their private property to someone else who wants that property.” This is simply unacceptable. There is no need for this framework to ever be established, especially in the mind of a child. On top of this, it not only tells a child it is okay for an authoritarian force more powerful than you to take your property, it also tells a child it is fully acceptable to appeal to authority to use force on others so the appealer’s desires are met. It instills entitlement, which only furthers the acceptance of forced sharing.

Now, I am not suggesting voluntary sharing is a bad thing, or that we should not encourage children to share, but it should be on their terms. There is great importance in teaching children the value of charity, and the benefits of taking care of others when you can, but these are things that cannot be forced, and it must be understood that these things have limits. We need to teach children that being mindful of others has a place, but it is at their choosing. At the same time, we need to teach our children that sometimes, we will never be able to use a friend’s toy, nor may we ever be able to purchase the toy on our own and that is simply the way of life. We need to teach our children the voluntary actions of charity, not State sanctioned theft.

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The Libertarian Case for Kavanaugh

The left have cast him as an enemy of women’s rights, suggesting that his appointment to SCOTUS would lead to the end of Roe V. Wade, that he would “create laws” that put women’s reproductive organs in the hands of stodgy old white men. But what the left, nor the right tell us is that Brett Kavanaugh is no friend of liberty. He is a proponent of the State, of mass surveillance, and data collection. We should be less afraid of the end of Roe V. Wade and more hesitant over the final erosion of the Fourth Amendment under the guise of legislation meant to stop “terrorism” or “sex trafficking.”

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So what, then, is the Libertarian case for Kavanaugh? Simply put, he seems fairly decent on the rest of the Constitution, and by fairly decent, I mean not as bad as the rest of the manure heap. When it comes to Kavanaugh, we know what we are getting; we know the Acts he has had a hand in drafting up; we know which presidents have kept him close; we know what to be worried about. We also know he will stand up for Second Amendment, and most of the rest of the Bill of Rights.

And if we are honest, the Fourth Amendment no longer really matters in the sense that the Federal Government will continue to spy on it’s people and collect data regardless of any Amendment to the constitution. They have been ignoring it long before the Patriot Act, and they will continue to ignore it unabated; does it matter if it’s out in the open?

Should the left prevail in stalling his confirmation, or having his nomination pulled altogether, it is more than likely the next candidate will not be appointed until after the mid-term elections, and if this supposed blue wave pulls through and the democrats take the senate, we will see a SCOTUS nomination that will be much more progressive and as a whole, less concerned about the Federal Government recognizing the boundaries laid out by the Constitution.

Is Kavanaugh a good pick, no, but then, no one that will be put forward will really be a “good” pick. It simply comes down to the fact that every appointment to SCOTUS will be a turd sandwich, and at this point, I’ll take a turd sandwich that will at least try to remind the State of some of the People’s personal liberties.

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An Open Letter to #MeToo

It is with some trepidation that I write this letter, but I feel it is something that must be said given the current climate surrounding our social and political norms. I write with trepidation, knowing that some will categorically box me as a Nazi, misogynist, rape-enabler — none of which I am. I do not write this letter as part of any collective, class or political identity, rather I write it as an individual.

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In the last year, the #MeToo movement has gained momentum; it has called out a number of individuals on dastardly crimes and brought them to face society at large for their unwanted deeds. Some of these attackers have been high profile, and some have been co-workers down the hall that outside of the local community no one was aware.

The recent accusations brought against Brett Kavanaugh, have shed a light on something sinister that lies within the #MeToo movement, and I’m not talking about false accusations. (Nor am I defending Brett Kavanaugh, as I feel his position on the Fourth Amendment is damning.) Much of the hoopla surrounding Kavanaugh is due to the 24-hour news cycle regurgitating experts at any given moment and the fact that everyone on social media is an expert.

Across social media, we have begun to see more hashtags, born of the #MeToo movement that pertains to sexual assault and victimhood in general. We have seen things like, “#IBelieveWomen,” “#IStandWithVictims,” “#IstandWithChristineBlaiseyFord,” and any number of permutations therein. When we use labels like these, we sweep away any middle ground for discussion; we create a wide array of implications, some more nefarious than others and in turn, they create an extreme polarization. We imply that those who ask questions about a particular assault, don’t believe women, don’t support victims and don’t care about sexual assault in general, all of which are egregiously incorrect. These hashtags also imply that we do not need to dig any deeper than the victim to find the truth, that the truth lies in the mouth of the accuser. Sadly, people do lie about sexual assault, and sometimes, despite positive ID of an assailant and a conviction, DNA evidence later exonerates the accused (that is not to say these are false allegations, just false convictions of someone who was not purposefully misidentified.) Unfortunately, the misguided nature of these hashtags does not stop there.

Sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes. One that no one could rationalize with any real sense of justice. It is unfortunate that sexual assault often occurs with very few, if any witnesses but, it must be treated the same as any other crime. Unfortunately, we must side with the accused until there is ample evidence that they are, in fact, the guilty party. We cannot accept the word of one individual as the penultimate evidence against the accused. This quickly takes us down a dark slope of hysteria similar to that of McCarthyism, were accusations are used against those with whom we disagree. These hashtags ignore this fact. They suggest that simple allegation is the equivalent of guilt. They suggest that by being a victim, your testimony is infallible. This is unacceptable.

In my suggesting this, I do not believe all accused are innocent, I am not implying sexual assault victims are liars, nor am I belittling their trauma. I am suggesting that before we attach all-encompassing hashtags and beliefs to every allegation, we step back and reevaluate. We take into account that sometimes, we get things wrong, and it is wholly unjust to accuse an innocent individual to assuage a victim’s fears no matter how terrifying they may be.

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