Saturday, May 28, 2016

Race the defining issue in the Incarceration Nation?

GUEST: Peter Enns, the executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and an associate professor of government at Cornell, talks about his new book: Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World.

Peter Enns offers a statistical analysis not found in other published works on America's astounding prison rate over the last three decades. How did it start, and what kept it climbing? Were the politician running on race issues to blame? Or was it the media that fed a national appetite for seeing black men being chased down by white police officers? Was it the privatization of the prison system itself that created its own version of the Military Industrial Complex?

Peter Enns looks at the sequence of events and concludes that "punitiveness" of the American people was the driving factor for politicians, who were often just responding to fears and hatreds already in the public consciousness. Rising crime rates, exaggerated by an irresponsible media, stirred a vindictive feeling especially in whites, who were prone to think of Blackness and criminality as virtually the same thing.

What I missed is at least some coverage of historical eras that mirrored the current dramatic increase in Black men going to prison. How different is this really to the Jim Crow Era starting in the 1880's, which led to Blacks being expelled from thousands of towns and villages all over the country? "Sundown Towns" may have sprung from the same racist impulse as the Incarceration Nation, when the media and the politicians give free rein to the worst in racial bigotry. Blacks were freed during the Civil War, and the backlash came about twenty years later. Blacks made great progress in the 1960's. Should the New Jim Crow in the middle 1980's be that much of a surprise? 

In some ways, "punitiveness" may miss part of the story of mass incarceration in the United States. 


Friday, May 20, 2016

No Black Bantustans, no Indian reservations, no Jewish state

GUEST: Miko Peled, son of the famous Israeli General Matti Peled and the grandson of a signer of the Israeli declaration of independence, talks about his book, The General's Son, that describes why American Jews have become critical of the policies of the Israeli government.

Eli and I were struck by this interview. Miko Peled pushed us into new territory, both by simplifying the conflict and then stating the obvious, that Israel as a Jewish state must eventually fall. 

According to Miko, there hasn't been this sea change in the opinions of the Israeli public. The racism and violence of the Jewish state has been very obvious from the start. Nor has the goal of expelling Palestinians from their land changed much since 1948. Israel is determined to have all the land, and the only change he sees in his country's rhetoric is that there is much less talk about "peace." 

His discussion of his father followed the progression of the book. The famous Israeli General Matti Peled had at first been presented as a peacemaker ahead of his time. Later in the book, however, he sees his father's vision as limited by Zionism. Matti advocated for showing respect and tolerance to Palestinians within a strictly Jewish state. His son goes far beyond this to envision a future state where all ethnic groups and religions are afforded equal rights. It is the one state solution like South Africa. No Black Bantustans, no Indian reservations, and no Jewish state.

Miko Peled pushed our thinking, and that is why his voice is so important for the American people to hear. Both Eli and I have worked for Palestinian rights for years, and yet this interview changed our perceptions of the conflict.