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Monday, October 5, 2009

Bankrupting ourselves . . . for "safety!"

Oregon State PenitentiarySalem's biggest boom industry. Image by Katherine H via Flickr

Sad evidence that Oregon hasn't managed to quite recognize that no state or nation has ever imprisoned its way to prosperity. The really insidious thing about our incarceration binge -- we're still the world leader in something! -- is that it's such an effective positive feedback system: the more people we send to prison for long sentences, the more people in the next generation we'll be dealing with through the criminal justice system.

We're unique among nations in having a trifecta of penal senselessness: We have not only extraordinarily long sentences for an extraordinary wide range of crimes (sentences that typically obliterate family ties and destroy childrens' prospects), we have a huge political class of hypocrites who have an extraordinary level of commitment to a senseless and futile drug war (treating addictions through prisons rather than through the medical model); lastly, we've also got a criminal justice system built on a vengeance/retribution model that ensures that, with almost 100% success, the people ground through the system are eventually returned to society with no skills, no hope, no supports, and no prospects for making a living through anything but crime.

It's really a perfect storm of counterproductive policies because, when you look at the incentives available for the various players (cops, prosecutors, legislators, prison staffers, voters), they all tend to perpetuate the status quo, even though the end result is to move us further and further into bankruptcy while we build and fill prisons, the only really vibrant industrial sector we have right now. Prisons are "anti-factories," giant facilities engaged in the round-the-clock task of destroying human potential and ensuring a steady customer base for themselves for decades to come.

The prison mania is one of the dead weights that's causing our economy to fail; even the richest countries eventually find that there's a limit to how much wealth you can sink into anti-factories before the wealth runs out.
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Unfortunate Counterscheduling

w:Grand Theater (Salem, Oregon) in Salem, OregonThe Grand Theater entrance is on the right, under the arched awning, just south of Grand Vines wineshop/cafe. Image via Wikipedia

Ummm, Marion-Polk LWV? Do you have a minute?

I know that a civic-minded bunch like yourselves probably has scads of members who have attended one or more of the Salem Progressive Film Series showings over the last three years. Which are always on the second Thursday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Grand Theater on High Street (at Court St).

So . . . what's up with the counter-scheduling of the health care forum and films this month at the same time as the SPFS is holding the LNG movie showing and discussion? Was this intentional or a serious oversight? Given that SPFS events are set months in advance, is it too late for you to reschedule yours?

You're not doing Salem any favors by making people choose between these.
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Salem needs RSS feeds on all city web pages

Here's an example of a government official using a website with an RSS [Real Simple Syndication] feed . . . look at the little blue square icon on the right side of the web address; that's an RSS subscription link icon.

An RSS feed is a tool for dramatically improved citizen information and participation (for free!) because it means that every time the destination page has new content, everyone who cares about that page will automatically be informed. In other words, citizens don't have to keep checking a website only to find that nothing has changed (which discourages people from checking, which means they miss things that eventually are posted).

I spoke to Chuck Bennett about this just this morning -- given how difficult these are to get going, I should hope that we could have all of the City of Salem's pages offering RSS feeds by the end of the week (it really is that easy).

And feel free to notice the RSS link on this blog, and to click on it to subscribe to the feed for new posts here. The more people we have in Salem who use this smart idea, the more likely that it will eventually penetrate into the City of Salem site.

P.S. If you don't know why an RSS feed is so useful and how much a difference it makes, watch this short "RSS in Plain English" video: