|The year began with a line that was as much a lamentation as it was an astute observation. "The scale and brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life," Adam Gopnik wrote in a trenchant essay in the January 30th issue of the New Yorker. "How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disemboweling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane condition?"
The year ends with filmmaker Eugene Jarecki touring the country — visiting prisons, prosecutors' conferences, schools — showing off his heartbreaking documentary, The House I Live In, an acclaimed collection of interlocking stories about the mournful human impact of America's failed war on drugs. Did you know there is a man serving a life sentence in Oklahoma for "trafficking" three ounces of methamphetamine? Did you know that the rise of privately-owned prisons means that there is now a direct financial incentive to incarcerate people? [...]
[Jarecki] says his film is no advocacy piece but rather a movie "driven by real people's stories." But the advocacy is there, in virtually every scene. The "real people" Jarecki shows us are complex individuals, generators of sympathy and empathy, outrage and sorrow, sometimes all at the same time. And in that sense, if no other, they are powerful tribunes for the message he seeks to send: Drug crime is caused by drug addiction, drug addiction is a public health matter, and all of us pay in one manner or another for short-sighted policies that treat drug abuse as a matter for the criminal courts.
Jarecki contends that the "war on drugs" is more warlike than any of us are willing to believe and that it has been waged disproportionately for decades on America's poor. If every lawyer, judge, cop, prison guard, politician, policy maker, and economist in America saw this film, fewer families might be devastated by the "lock-em-up" approach to the problem. And fewer taxpayers would have to foot the bill.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010—Why did Congressional Black Caucus invite Scott and West?:
|This past election day, two new Republicans who happen to be black were elected to serve in the 112th Congress: Allen West from Florida's 22nd district and Tim Scott from South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. Both West and Scott's districts are overwhelmingly white, with West's district coming in at just 3.8 percent black and Scott's district coming in a much more respectable 21.1 percent black. Both men were endorsed by Sarah Palin and numerous other national and local conservatives, but not the Congressional Black Caucus. However, both men were invited to join the CBC, although Scott has declined membership. Needless to say, according to exit polls neither man received any significant share of the black vote in their respective districts.
Meanwhile, as I pointed out earlier this year, Congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis has still received no invite from the CBC, even though he represents a district that is 60 percent black and where he routinely receives the lion's share of the black vote even when he has black primary challengers. Even though he was endorsed by Obama. Even though he was endorsed by the Congressional Black Caucus!
Does this make any sense at all?
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, a look at Slate's interactive graphic of gun deaths in America since Newtown. Greg Dworkin shared polling data on guns & the NRA, some poignant photos of the flood of teddy bears sent to Newtown, and some suggestions for how better to support that community. Then, Twitter sensation @RepJackKimble, author of Profiles in Courageousness. Plus, a peek at what makes C-SPAN tick, and how your humble host helped "liberate" Congressional video.