Present Students, Future Slaves

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The Slave Ship 1840 William Turner

Every generation for the last 30 years has endorsed neoliberal policies, leaving today’s young people not only without a voice, but also saddled with a set of economic, political and social conditions that have rendered them devalued, marginalized and ultimately disposable. Henry Giroux

Philosopher and political thinker, Sheldon Wollin died this month. His claim that the U.S. government operates, not as a democracy but in what he called “inverted totalitarianism” – “every natural resource and every living being is seen as a commodity and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism” and nowhere is this better exemplified than in our student debt crisis.

The average American student debt upon graduation is $29,400 and this while America’s federal government projects a record $50-billion profit on student loans in 2014! This makes the student loan business the most profitable business in America. (ExxonMobil made $44.9 billion in 2012)

The usury attached to a college education in America supports massive  hierarchy, concentration of power and wealth, and greater inequality. The fact that a higher education is financially out of the reach for the majority, ensures that only an elite will continue to control and lead the future of our country.

While profits soar for the government,  the young people have little time for political engagement or creative experimentation. The debt burden forces graduates to make career decisions based on the bottom line.  They don’t have time to become involved in not-for-profit jobs or peace-promoting activities. This level of debt load creates a disconnect from the social needs of the community. In a market-driven society the only obligation is to be a good consumer. The liberal arts and the investigation of subjects that explore the imagination and how power is created is not supported.

What type of future are we creating? Why is it Germany and other EU countries have completely eliminated college tuition?

In 2013 legislators in Oregon unanimously passed a bill that instructs the state’s Higher Education Coordination Commission to develop a “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” plan to finance public higher education. Under the plan, students pay nothing while in school, then pay a fixed percentage of their income (3 percent after a 4-year degree) to fund higher education going forward. This is at the very least a step in the right direction.

Rest in Peace, Sheldon Wolin.

Some relevant links:

The Ripple Effects of Rising Student Debt

Left Behind
A Crisis of Affordability

NY Times Obit: Sheldon Wolin


Making Waste a Resource


Cold Spring, NY

The level of food waste in our world is estimated by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to be 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year.

If epigenetics has any validity we (as a species) can’t have totally forgotten the hundreds of thousands of years we lived in a natural relationship with the earth. In our current acceptance of progress and competition our estrangement from the earth is reflected in our waste. One way that we could successfully stop the massive waste of food worldwide is to support and adopt the principles and practice of Permaculture.

Permaculture first began as an agricultural-based practice but it is now a living philosophy that can be applied to address solutions on the community and national level. Permaculture is aligned with the principles of the Equal Life Foundation in that the philosophy recognizes the fact that no single problem or solution stands on its own. The Permaculture approach, like the Equal Life Foundation promotes the use of existing resources and infrastructure to correct our relationship to each other and the natural world.

Permaculture works with nature, not against it. It uses observation and investigation rather than thoughtless labor. Each element should perform many functions, rather than one as everything is connected to everything else.

All solutions come from us – where else could they come from?  Permaculture enhances the self-confidence and ownership we need to create solutions and alternatives. It challenges the energy-intensive and pollution-producing linear distribution networks that produce food waste. Waste, if not able to be eaten, can be used to compost,  making “waste”  a resource.

Some other solutions to the problem of food waste include:

International Food Distribution Network:

FoodCloud : a company that uses technology to link retailers holding excess food with charities.

Gleaning Network UK coordinates teams of volunteers with willing farmers across the UK to direct surplus produce to charities that redistribute it to people that need it most.

Food Waste Collective in Brighton, UK

Other Notes:

“Permaculture was created in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor. He had spent many years out in nature as a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems work and became very distressed at the destruction that he saw going on around him. He decided that instead of being angry about what was happening and reacting against the destruction he wanted to work on creating a positive solution And he thought the solution would be living based on the patterns he had observed in nature.” [1]

More links on Permaculture:

Permaculture Research Institute

The Links among plants:

“The more we learn about these underground networks [of plants], the more our ideas about plants have to change. They aren’t just sitting there quietly growing. By linking to the fungal network they can help out their neighbours by sharing nutrients and information – or sabotage unwelcome plants by spreading toxic chemicals through the network. This “wood wide web”, it turns out, even has its own version of cybercrime.

We can each begin by composting nation-wide and in the individual household level.

What’s the Cure for Corruption?


“Industry does everything they can and gets away with it almost all the time, whether it’s the coal industry, not the subject of this hearing, or water or whatever. They will cut corners, and they will get away with it. ” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D, WVa

“To ask why there is corruption is a pertinent question…Our society has been made by us – we are the architects of it. And because the foundation is wrong…it is bound to be corrupt” Osho

The normalization of dishonest and fraudulent acts – from the small dishonest acts to the systemic institutional ones, makes it clear that the constraints we have to prevent corruption are unable to control or compete with the manic pursuit of self-interest.

Doctors prescribe drugs to strangers that they would not give their own children. Hedge fund managers buy the rights to critical drugs and then hike the price up 5000%. Pharmaceutical industry’s PAC money funnels massive amounts of cash to every member of congress. Treaties like the TPP would extend Big Pharma’s patent rights to other countries. We have judges caught getting kick-backs for sending kids to for-profit prisons, prisons that push for 100 percent occupancy and charge exorbitant rates for phone calls, basic necessities and who lobby for longer sentences and the list goes on…are we all “sharks doing what sharks do?” How can we investigate the deeper, systemic problem within each of us where we allow corruption to exist on a personal level?

Working from the inside (ourselves) out (the world system) we could start with our general conditioning – the belief that equates survival with competition. This leads to justification, blame and lies – it is then that our personal desires come to dominate the principles we say we live by.

How can we correct our fear towards the very “system” we allow? What is the extent of control that money imposes on us and how can we gain control over our relationship to money? How can we change undermining beliefs such as “this is the way it is and it can’t be changed?”

Solitary Confinement is Torture

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“Solitary confinement can have serious psychological, psychiatric, and sometime physiological effects on many prison inmates. A long list of possible symptoms from insomnia and confusion to hallucinations and outright insanity…The overall consistency of these findings—the same or similar conclusions reached by different researchers examining different facilities, in different parts of the world, in different decades, using different research methods—is striking.”
Brief for Professors & Practitioners of Psychology & Psychiatry

Studies and longitudinal research have show the serious psychological and physiological effects of solitary confinement – yet it is currently being imposed on over 80,000 Americans – and that number is growing.

In the U.S. both adults and children are placed in isolation. Over 62,000 minors are being held in over 2,000 juvenile facilities, and approximately 1 in 5 of use isolation.  The Journal of the American Academy of Child found that incarcerated juveniles had 10 times the rate of diagnosed mental illness as children “on the outside.”

80,000+ Americans live a solitary confinement nightmare. These prisoners are physically isolated and confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day, with only minimal interaction with others.

International laws and guidelines are very clear in saying that solitary confinement has no rehabilitative qualities to support it’s use and that lengthy conditions of harsh solitary confinement constitute either torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Solitary confinement is justified as disciplinary punishment – both as a way to protect vulnerable prisoners and as a way for  prison staff to ‘manage’ difficult individuals. It is used to isolate detainees during the pre-trial stage of investigation, as part of coercive interrogation and it is a method used to lock away prisoners especially those perceived to have mental illnesses this despite the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which states that ‘Imprisonment and other measures which result in cutting off an offender from the outside world are afflictive by the very fact of taking from the person the right of self-determination by depriving him of his liberty. Therefore the prison system shall not, except as incidental to justifiable segregation or the maintenance of discipline, aggravate the suffering inherent in such a situation.’ (Rule 57)

Not only does solitary confinement violate international law and guidelines it also violates the 8th amendment of the U.S. constitution which says,  “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”  And yet, with only a very few exceptions, U.S. federal courts have disagreed – this, despite one U.S. Senate hearing testimony on the psychological effects of solitary which described a prisoner that used thread to sew his mouth shut, another inmate who chewed off his finger and another took a television apart and ate it.

‘Isolation syndrome’ is the name used to describe the consequence of prolonged solitary confinement. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, paranoia, psychosis, self-harm and suicide.  The only sporadic contact that prisoners have is with guards, despite the research that family contact is one of the most important factors in successful rehabilitation. Solitary prohibits the very thing needed for a new life – access to loved ones and support networks. And while some prisoners are able to construct meaning and occupy their time without going crazy, others are not so able, experiencing severe depression and crushing mental illness.

International observer Tessa Murphy of Amnesty International’s Campaigner on the United States has said, ““The USA’s isolation system is a shocking and outdated form of punishment which should have no place in any country purporting to respect human rights principles. The fact that anyone is able to survive the inhumanity of a system which seems specifically designed to break them is incredible.”

Lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said: “Solitary confinement is one of the techniques used to ‘break’ prisoners in Guantánamo Bay.  Sadly I can testify that it has the sickening, desired impact, and has caused serious mental health problems for the people I represent.  We  should put these ugly human experiments behind us.
Another dimension that is very worrisome and shocking are the for-profit companies responsible for approximately 6 percent of state prisoners, 16 percent of federal prisoners, and inmates in local jails in Texas, Louisiana, and other states. This means for-profit companies decide which prisoners are kept in solitary and for how long. Private prisons have have been shown to use excessive of solitary confinement

The fact is that solitary confinement doesn’t work: One  2001 study of recidivism in Connecticut found that prisoners who had been held in solitary confinement were about 50 percent more likely to be rearrested within three years than those who had not. A study in Washington state found that inmates who had spent three months or longer in solitary were not only more likely to re-offend but were much more likely to commit a violent crime. In the report, Confronting Confinement (Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons) they found, “the disconnect between what we know to work and the laws and policies legislatures implement is perhaps greater in this field than in any other area of social policy.”

Human contact constitutes a basic human need and as such our courts, legislators and prison officials need to recognize the serious psychological and physical pain resulting from isolation. Solitary confinement is torture and it must be stopped.

Some good news:
The movement to end juvenile solitary has gotten a boost from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, whose recommendations on juvenile justice reform have been adopted by more than 200 jurisdictions, including Baltimore, San Francisco, and Dallas County, Texas.

New York City’s Board of Correction voted to end solitary for inmates under 21 starting in January 2016.
Sept 2015: California agreed Tuesday to end its unlimited isolation of imprisoned gang leaders, restricting a practice that once kept hundreds of inmates in notorious segregation units for a decade or longer.

See links for more information. Consider joining organizations like the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated confinement.
The goal of the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC) is sweeping reform of New York’s use of solitary confinement and other forms of extreme isolation in state prisons and local jails.

Recommended: The Friend’s Service Committee’s fact sheet : The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice

Brief for Professors & Practitioners of Psychology & Psychiatry as Amici Curiae Support-ing Respondent at 4, Wilkinson v. Austin (Austin V, 545 U.S. 209 (2005) (No. 04-495).

Growing Up Locked Down

The Shocking Abuse of Solitary Confinement in U.S. Prisons

Recidivism in Connecticut

Confronting Confinement

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