Smile Politely

American exceptionalism

We have this concept in our country which the right renders as “American Exceptionalism“. Yes, it’s enunciated in an italics voice and it also has quotes around it, hanging in the air. You’d have to corner one of them for their interpretation of this phrase, but I thought I’d visit a point upon which there’s no denying that we are number one.

America has 305 million people and over 2 million are in prison. This is a world record, 743 per hundred thousand; we have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. The bulk of our lock ’em up attitude lands on black and Hispanic men. The reasons are complex, but basically black communities started out disadvantaged due to slavery, men with ambition and energy but no employment outlet turn to crime, and no politician in this country ever got a vote talking reform over punishment. There isn’t some secret cabal of Klansmen determined to destroy black America, it’s just came out that way; that’s how racism works.

This was bad when it was a state sponsored racist policy, but about the time Reagan came into office we started to privatize the effort. Prisons are now run by corporations and business is good — our prison population has expanded by almost a factor of five since 1980.

This is a brilliant advance on the slave plantation of the 19th century — the men caught in it need not work, they merely have to keep breathing and they’re profit centers. Health care inside is poor — they’re meant to die once their care cost goes up.

You think I’m exaggerating on the slave keeping point, right? There are 20,000 prisoners under the control of Federal Prison Industries who are making body armor for our troops. They make $0.23 an hour themselves, displacing free union employees who were making a hundred times that. This is an exciting new advance … for the corporations that own these humans imprisoned in their facilities. It can also be exciting for our troops, but not in a positive way — 44,000 helmets made by this company had to be recalled due to poor workmanship.

We’ve also been working on another important skill in this area: not locking up white collar criminals. The S&L bailout scandal of the 1980s cost the taxpayers about $90 billion and over a thousand executives went to prison. Things are different today.

The Wall Street generated financial sector meltdown that started four years ago is a problem we can’t even assess yet due to corruption. The recent revelation that the Federal Reserve provided $16 TRILLION in secret financing would seem to be the last possible insult to taxpayers; that’s about fourteen months of the entire U.S. gross domestic product, a figure twenty times the size of the famously regulation free TARP bailout.

And miraculously only Bernie Madoff and a few other truly egregious knuckleheads have been locked away for the crime wave that led to this implosion. America ought to demand that every brown or black face currently incarcerated in New York’s famous Sing Sing Prison be freed to make room for bond traders or commodities brokers captured after we cordon off the southern tip of the island of Manhattan and round up those we find there.

So, in summary, a black man with the gumption to divide an ounce bag of locally grown marijuana for distribution goes away for a couple of years if he is found out. A white man who makes off with 10,000 times the street value of that drug in the process of wiping out a couple of thousand union jobs and transporting that work overseas? He gets to retire a couple of years early thanks to a generous bonus for his hard “work”.

The only thing exceptional about us is that we’re so anesthetized by American Idol and our dead-white-girl media that we can barely muster an exasperated grunt when presented with the facts of the matter.

More Articles