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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For Shame

And in this week’s “I can’t believe what I just read” is the piece by Maureen Turner (“Prison Politics,” December 17, 2013) in which she attempts to frame the argument against the prison-industrial complex by describing the ostensibly unfair sentences given to white, college-educated, female criminals—you know, the ones capable of writing books describing their ordeals. It’s amazing that this collection of distorted ideas ever made it into your publication. For starters, isn’t the issue of mass incarceration widely believed to be the rapid expansion of the prison population resulting from targeting people of color, the poor, and undocumented immigrants, and the draconian sentences for minor drug crimes or the exploitation of inmates for cheap labor? (At least one criminal offender she references in this piece, Andrea James, acknowledges these “politically motivated policies.”) The prisoners Turner cites don’t reflect this demographic. White-collar criminal James was convicted of wire fraud and stealing from mortgage lenders and even homeowners; Senator Dianne Wilkerson, who accepted bribes, and Patrice Tierney, tax-defrauding wife of U.S. Representative John Tierney, are others mentioned in the article.  Prison-industrial complex fodder? Uh, not quite!

But more egregious is Turner’s ingratiating attempt to sanitize James’ crimes. What’s the motivation in mentioning that James is an attorney and a “mom?” Frankly, I find James’ behavior far less excusable because she’s these things. Moreover, when we hear James say she’s filled with “deep regret” and that her “actions were justified,” are we expected to feel sympathy for her?

When I think about these reckless, subjective and increasingly common extenuations of criminality, I’m reminded of the Bush cabal and their arrogant “We make our own reality” tripe. Exemplifying the ultimate abuse of power, this remark was intended to invalidate criticism, even discussion. We’re on a slippery slope to becoming nothing more than a collection of narrowly defined special interests; white-collar criminals expecting a break; politicians rationalizing their crassly offensive behaviors and asking us still to vote for them; people in business ripping off their neighbors. The disappearance of shame and personal responsibility, lamented by cultural critic and historian Christopher Lasch, will cost our society in more ways than we realize.

[Editor’s note: Andrea James, whose book Maureen Turner wrote about— Upper Bunkies Unite, And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration  (Goode Book Press)—is black.]


Billboard Politics

Recently, at a Springfield City Council meeting, the proponent of two digital billboards along Interstate I-91 withdrew its special permit requests rather than go forward facing a losing vote. Unfortunately, the Council voted to allow the withdrawal rather than proceeding with a negative vote that would have killed the issue for two years.

The requests were hampered by both proposed locations apparently violating the city’s zoning ordinances, one being less than 500 feet and visible from a residence, the second being less than 500 feet from another billboard. It is ironic that the proponent’s representative stated that the city was losing out on the tax revenue these structures would bring at the same time that the proponent strongly opposed the city’s bringing the valuation of its 150 existing billboard sites up to fair cash value, a move that would bring approximately another $2 million to the city’s treasury. A current estimate is that the existing billboard sites are valued at only about 30 percent of fair cash value, in violation of the state law calling for them to be valued at 100 percent of fair cash value—the subject of a Ten Taxpayer lawsuit against the city for the undervaluations which is proceeding in Superior Court. It should also be noted that, according to Wikipedia, four states ban billboards—Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii and Maine—and their merchants and businesses seem to get along just fine without the detrimental effects of reduced viewscapes and distracted drivers.

 

Right Company, Wrong Michael

Thanks to Maureen Turner for her kind review of my book, Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm (“Books for Dark Days,” December 17, 2013). A correction to note: My husband, Michael Parry (not Michael Kittredge), had a long career at Yankee Candle and was CEO from 1998-2001. Together we now jointly operate our farm.

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