Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Headlines

Several stories/headlines worth briefly mentioning. First, this shocking (shocking!) headline that no one saw coming:

S.E.C. Accuses Countrywide ex-Chief of Fraud:

Angelo R. Mozilo, the self-made man from the Bronx who built Countrywide Financial into the nation’s largest mortgage lender before the credit squeeze hit, has been charged with securities fraud and insider trading in a civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
I'm not even sure why this is news.

Cue the Allman Brothers:

Prison Blues: States Slimming Down Inmates Meals:

The recession is hitting home for inmates, too: Some cash-strapped states are taking aim at prison menus.

Georgia prisoners already didn’t get lunch on the weekends, and the Department of Corrections recently eliminated the midday meal on Fridays, too. Ohio may drop weekend breakfasts and offer brunch instead. Other states are cutting back on milk and fresh fruit.

Earlier this month, Alabama reduced the milk and fresh fruit it serves to save $700,000. Alabama inmates now receive an apple or an orange once a week, down from twice a week. Milk has been reduced from seven servings per week to three. Tennessee has also cut back on milk portions for men — from two servings a day to one — to save $600,000.
I know, I know, you get tough on crime types are already grinding your teeth, "they're prisoners, put 'em on bread and water!" etc. But before you eliminate food completely in prison, consider this:

Officials say prisoners are still getting enough calories, but family members and critics say the changes could make prisoners irritable and food a valuable commodity, increasing the possibility of violence.

Gordon Crews, a professor at Marshall University in West Virginia, wrote a book looking at correctional violence and said historically there have been links between food and problems behind bars. He pointed to a February riot at the Reeves County Detention Center in Texas caused in part by poor food quality.

“A lot of prisoners will see something like that as some kind of retribution against them or some kind of mistreatment,” Crews said. “It’ll be something that the correctional staff will pay the price for … another reason (for inmates) to argue and fight back.”

In Georgia, reports of inmate assaults — on both staff and other inmates — are up substantially for fiscal year 2009 over the year before, according to data obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request.

Prison officials deny the increase has anything to do with the shrinking menu but didn’t provide an explanation.

Of course. When basics like food and medicine are cut, violence almost always ensues. I wish I could remember the state that briefly cut coffee for its inmates and had to reverse the order five days later after violence broke out state-wide (Alabama perhaps?).

I know, I know, all you get tough types out there,"they're prisoners, who cares if they kill each other!" etc. But there is this pesky thing called the Constitution, and it exists regardless of recessionary times.


Irony Headline of the day:

Twitter Users Are Self-Obsessed, Harvard Study Suggests:

A study released this week by a Harvard University professor and a graduate student told many who use Twitter what they may already know: The network is dominated by a few tweeters talking about themselves, much more so than other social networks.

The study, published by Harvard Business Publishing, looked at a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users last month and then compared them with users of other social networks. It found that the top 10 percent of the social network’s most active users accounted for about 90 percent of all tweets, and most of those users were men.

Researchers say this may indicate that Twitter isn’t as much about communicating back and forth as it is about posting personal ideas or thoughts.
This doesn't bode well if Time Magazine's cover story this week, "How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live," is accurate. A culture even more self-obsessed, solipsistic and brain-dead than we already are? So much for those Great Recession predictions about communitarian ideals and people becoming less self-absorbed in bad economic times.

Bonus irony: the Harvard study was first announced on the Harvard Twitter feed.


And the fear mongering headline of the day goes to our own Athens Daily Planet.

Violent, Property Crime Skyrocket:
The FBI has confirmed what Athens residents and police already knew - that almost every type of crime is on the rise here.

Violent crime in Athens-Clarke County increased for the second consecutive year, up 15 percent in 2007 and 23 percent last year, according to the preliminary FBI annual Uniform Crime Report, released this week.

Property crime, including burglary and theft, dropped slightly two years ago, according to the FBI, but skyrocketed by 17 percent in 2008, largely because of a spiraling number of break-ins.

Meanwhile, crime in the U.S. (both violent and property) was down in 2008, and as my colleague Dr. Elaine Weeks notes in the story, rates here in Athens remain relatively low by comparison.

While property crime is on the rise here, it's still not a bad rate, per capita, according to Weeks. Athens had the second-lowest property crime rate per 100,000 residents, and the lowest violent crime rate compared to the three other metropolitan areas.

"So despite Athens-Clarke County's increase, I would still feel safe here, judging from these comparative figures," she said.

But that's the media for you. Nothing sells soap quite like "Crime Skyrocketing!" headlines.

As I always intone when discussing crime statistics, please go directly to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report website and get the data yourself. The FBI makes no editorial comments on the numbers, which is as it should be.

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