The VERA Institute has been focusing heavily on the current state of mass incarceration in the US and its relationship with continued criminal and violent behavior. They've put together a pretty impressive speaker series with some of the leading researchers in criminology and sociology. Some of these sessions are available in podcast. I posted some of them below.
Devah Pager: "A Turning Point for Mass Incarceration?"
Faye Taxman: "How Corrections Systems Can Deter Future Crime"
Daniel Nagin: "Imprisonment and Crime: Can both be Reduced?"
Here's a story from the New York Times on psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spizter. Dr. Spitzer is a well-known psychiatrist and an important figure in getting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders--commonly referred to as the DSM and considered the bible of defining and classifying psychiatric behaviors--to change its definition of homosexuality from one of a mental disorder in need of repairing to a form of distress. This was in the early 1970s and represented a major breakthrough for gay rights activists and civil rights activists across the country. There's an excellent podcast on how exactly this change happened and Spitzer's role in it from This American Life, called "81 Words." Despite these changes Dr. Spitzer apparently published some work in 2003 advocating "reparative therapy" in which gay, distressed patients learn how to no longer be gay. The research was questionable based on a number of methodological issues and an assumption that homosexuality is something out of the ordinary and therefore something to be cured rather than just representative of the variety of humanity. In any event, Dr. Spitzer recently ushered an apology. His reparative study was not only questionable science (as he himself noted) but also distressing and damaging to a number of patients who went through it (leading to depression and suicidal thoughts). Further, conservatives used his research to justify denying civil unions and gay marriage both in the US and abroad. This further frustrated Dr. Spitzer leading him to issue his apology. Here's a draft of his letter.
The Times-Picayune has come out with an 8-part series on prisons in Louisiana in which reporter Cindy Chang spent over a year researching how Louisiana became the prison capital of the world. It's a well-researched and thorough report with special attention to a number of areas (e.g., pardons, sentencing laws and the state's sentencing commission, costs of incarceration, and economic incentives to incarcerate). Here's the video that opens the series. There are a number of other videos and graphs.
Here's a chart from Crooks & Liars signifying the number of companies controlling media outlets in the U.S. You can find similar data on the Freepress site (Who Owns the Media). The consolidation shown below is largely due to polices designed to "deregulate" media ownership. The claim is that by relaxing media ownership rules, companies can better compete for viewers. In reality its mostly bullshit. First, the term "deregulation" is a total misnomer. What it really is, and what those supporting it really want, is "reregulation." They want regulative rules to still exist, just different ones, ones written more to protect the market interests of big media companies. Second, at the end of the day deregulation is not about increasing competition, it's about controlling market share. There's nothing competitive about this. In fact, competition is a threat. Why would anybody looking to increase their profits want more competition? What they want is to be able to buy up the existing competition so they can control a greater percentage of market share and then use this access to people's 'eyeballs' to market to advertisers. The result is less competition and less variety of content (i.e., 500 channels of the same boring crap). When it comes to news, the consequences for informed citizenship and democratic participation are clearly negative.
Don't kid yourself by thinking that what media options do exist is a result of the public choosing these programs over others (and therefore indicative of the public's poor choices). That's not they way it works and you can't find many people who are happy with the available options, although it is what we're taught about regarding the relationship between capitalism and consumption. Instead, it's more like, "people are going to watch television or listen to the radio. How do we make sure it's our stations they watch?" You make sure they watch your stations by controlling more of the stations available.
Here's another example, but with coffee. I drink coffee everyday. I don't like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee. But, if there are no other real options for coffee and these two are on my way to work, then they get my business. I'm not buying their coffee because I like it over other options, but because I like coffee and theirs are the only options. So, if they can buy up all the space on my morning commute, they increase their chances that I will buy their coffee over other (dwindling) options, even if their coffee kind of sucks. This is how capitalism works, for media, coffee and everything else.
Here's a clip of Stephen Colbert's interview with Michelle Alexander, civil rights lawyer, professor and author of the book The New Jim Crow. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander discusses how various policies implemented through incarceration and related 'collateral consequences' serve as contemporary versions of the poll tax and literacy test of the pre-civil rights era. As such, these barriers serve as modern forms of controlling and disenfranchising African Americans.