Pieces Together

Land of the Free?
“For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report documenting America’s rank as the world’s No. 1 incarcerator. It urges states to curtail corrections spending by placing fewer low-risk offenders behind bars. Using state-by-state data, the report says 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or prison at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults. Whether per capita or in raw numbers, it’s more than any other nation. The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.” (Yahoo News, 29 February)

This is Freedom?
“As if the Government doesn’t know enough about us already, it is now using lie-detector equipment (or ‘voice-risk analysis’, as it is euphemistically known) to signal whether people claiming benefit are telling the truth. If you receive a phone call from a town hall official asking about your circumstances, it seems that your answers – or rather, the tone of voice in which you give them – could well be scrutinised by a computer for telltale signs of ‘stress‘. … In the Government’s book, apparently, stress in the voice is a pretty good indication of flagrant dishonesty. You will be investigated further. Big Brother is most certainly watching you.” (Times, 27 February)

War is Stupid
“The last French veteran of World War I, an Italian immigrant who lied about his age to join the Foreign Legion and fight in the trenches, died Wednesday aged 110, President Nicolas Sarkozy said. Lazare Ponticelli, the last of more than eight million men who fought under French colours in the 1914-18 war that tore Europe apart, died at the home he shared with his daughter in Kremlin-Bicêtre, a Paris suburb. Reflecting on his wartime experiences, he once said: “You shoot at men who are fathers: war is completely stupid.”
(Yahoo News, 12 March)

The American Dream?
  “More American homeowners are mired in negative equity than at any time since the Great Depression of the Thirties … Close to 9 million Americans, or 10.3 per cent of homeowners in the US, now owe more on their mortgages than their house is worth, according to the latest figures from Moody’s, the ratings agency, as inventories of unsold homes continue to pile up in an already over-supplied market.” (Observer, 24 February) “House prices in America are now falling at their fastest rate since records began in 1964, while repossessions and new houses for sale are at levels not seen since the Depression in 1929.” (Observer, 2 March)

Democracy in Action?
“President Bush has vetoed a law preventing the CIA using interrogation techniques condemned by many as torture, because it ‘would take away one of the most valuable tools in the War on Terror’ …The veto throws the spotlight back on to America’s use of so-called coercive interrogation methods like waterboarding, the simulated drowning technique invented by Spanish inquisitors and adopted by regimes such as the Khmer Rouge.” (Times, 10 March)>

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