Friday, July 13, 2012

Light Summer Beach Reading

It's summer, it's getting hotter and more humid by the second. Time to head to the beach (or hide inside with the a/c) and do a little light reading. My two suggestions.

First, back in June the Atlantic ran a three part series on the ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison in Colorado that houses the world's most notorious criminals. As I wrote in a post back in 2008, very little is known about the world of supermax where prisoners are locked down 24/7 in concrete tombs. Other than the Time expose from 2006, it's very difficult to penetrate this solid steel fortress.

The Atlantic series, subtitled "An American Gulag," however offers a new perspective, culled from a class-action lawsuit, court filings and depositions of staff concerning the horrific conditions these inmates reside in. There is even a lengthy discussion concerning the 8th amendment and whether this method of solitary confinement is really constitutional:
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from inflicting "cruel and unusual punishment" upon its citizens, even its convicted ones, and especially its mentally ill ones. Over the decades, vast groves of trees have been sacrificed papering prison-related litigation over the meaning of the phrase in the context of medical and mental health care. Some of the lawsuits, filed by inmates and others, has been frivolous. Many, however, have not. None like the one filed Monday has reached a point in litigation where a federal judge has issued a substantive ruling on its merits.

Dostoevsky was right: How we treat our prisoners says more about us than it does about them. Earlier this year, I read Pete Early's bestselling book Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness. One of its many profound lessons is that America pays an enormous price for trying to sweep its mentally ill prisoners under the rug. Win or lose on the merits, the Bacote case represents a vital new opportunity to shed light on what is happening to these profoundly ill men -- what is being done to them in our name.

Second, I recommend Matt Taibbi's latest screed in Rolling Stone entitled "The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia." Merging two of my favorite topics, organized crime and the financial looting that wrecked the economy four years ago, Taibbi spins what turns out to be more than a just a vivid analogy between the two groups. He argues, and I would concur, that the Wall Street "Banksters," as the Economist so memorably dubbed them, have become the new American Mob:
In fact, stripped of all the camouflaging financial verbiage, the crimes the defendants and their co-conspirators committed were virtually indistinguishable from the kind of thuggery practiced for decades by the Mafia, which has long made manipulation of public bids for things like garbage collection and construction contracts a cornerstone of its business. What's more, in the manner of old mob trials, Wall Street's secret machinations were revealed during the USA v. Carollo trial through crackling wiretap recordings and the lurid testimony of cooperating witnesses, who came into court with bowed heads, pointing fingers at their accomplices.

The new-age gangsters even invented an elaborate code to hide their crimes. Like Elizabethan highway robbers who spoke in thieves' cant, or Italian mobsters who talked about "getting a button man to clip the capo," on tape after tape these Wall Street crooks coughed up phrases like "pull a nickel out" or "get to the right level" or "you're hanging out there" – all code words used to manipulate the interest rates on municipal bonds. The only thing that made this trial different from a typical mob trial was the scale of the crime.
Awesome. I can't wait to check out the new Mob Museum when I head to Vegas in a few weeks. No doubt I'll come back with even more research drawing parallels between the mobbed up casinos of the 50's-70's, and the Wall Street thugs of the 2000's.

With one exception, of course: mobbed up Vegas was eventually broken by vigorous law enforcement, prosecutions, imprisonment, and a dismantling of the perceived legitimacy its political contributions brought it. The Wall Street goons have yet to be arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned, and their millions in campaign contributions in this presidential election cycle will ensure they never will be.

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