Stranger in a Strange Land

Butte, Montana

Now if you were a stranger in a strange land and happened to be in Great Falls, Montana to attend the Bush traveling Social Security show, and afterward, decided to spend another day or two looking around, you just might drive north toward Havre and the Canadian border.

And, as you drove north from Great Falls, driving the 116 miles up to Havre and the Hi-Line you would notice the population dwindles and the towns shrink. It is a different West, north-central Montana, a long ways from Texas.

In Montana, on average, there are 6.2 people per square mile. Down there, in the Lone Star brag-it-up, we find 79.6 Texans per square mile.Texas is 12 times more densely populated then Montana.

Of course, there are some similarities. Like Montana, there is the Texas version of the trophy ranch. And George Bush easily qualifies as a trophy rancher, just as any other east coast preppie would.

Born in New Haven, Bush is a blow in from Andover, Yale and Harvard and now in Texas, a new kid on the block, buying the ranch in 1999. So the land has nothing of the new owner in its past, no children born, no scraping to make payments and no narrative passed on from one generation to another. Yet the news media sops it up as if Bush was Socrates speaking from Athens.

But the real Bush is the least authentic and least genuine of presidents, a product, ranch and all, invented and manufactured by Karl Rove. Quite unlike Harry Truman with his authentic Missouri roots, the same Truman who gave the bankers hell in Butte’s Naranche Stadium in 1948.

And the Bush trophy ranch is more suburban then rural. Located just outside of Crawford, in McLennan County, Texas, here the square mile density is 204 persons. In Montana, the most populated and urban county,Yellowstone, has less then 50 people per square mile.

Besides, this ranch is only 25 miles or so from Waco, well over 100,000 people, a town bigger then any Montana city. Some might remember Waco, as the home of cult leader David Koresh’s and his heavily armed Branch Dividian followers. Which shouldn’t surprise us. Isn’t this Texas, the birthplace of “Compassionate Conservatism.”

So naturally the state is first in the number of people killed by handguns, first in the number of people executed, and first in the world in number of people in prison with a rate of 1,035 people behind bars for every 100,000 in the population. And a staggering 55% of these prisoners are being held for a non-violent crimes. And in true compassionate fashion, Texas blacks are incarcerated at a rate seven times greater than whites.

So, and it requires little effort, imagine a Texas as a nation separate from all others.

It would have the world’s highest incarceration rate–significantly higher. Those 1,000 and more Texas prisoners per 100,000 residents is nearly double that of the United States (682), and Russia (685). Texas alone has the world’s third biggest prison system, trailing only the U.S, and Russia. And of all the world’s incarceration statistics, the rate of black people locked up in Texas is both one of the most fantastic and shameful on the planet.. While there are 555 whites behind bars for every 100,000 in Texas, there are 3,862 African Americans per 100,000. Now compare 3,862 black Texans locked up for every 665 Russian’s.

Yet the former Texas governor who presided over much of the growth of these vile and evil conditions continues lecturing the Russians, Iranians, Iraqi’s, Chinese and others about “freedom.” And then he comes up to Montana, a kind of guy who has never worried about a nearly empty wallet, or missing a house payment, or losing a job, or maxing a credit card, and he is going to tell us about Social Security. As for myself, I never thought I would live long enough for something like this to happen.

But I did.

And then for frosting on the cake, in a speech to faith-based and community-based activists the other day, he thanked his private army: “I want to thank you all for being a soldier in the army of compassion, some of you privates, some of you sergeants, some of you generals, all soldiers, bound together by the great desire to love a neighbor just like you’d like to be loved yourself.” Then he actually mentioned America’s prison numbers, a first, as far I know.

Of course, Bush served up the prison numbers in large bowls of marshmallow flavored mush, his favorite. With the servings came the sermon: “There are over two million children in America with at least one parent in prison. That is a problem that we must address, and the problem is, is that if your dad or mother is in prison, you’re likely to end up there yourself without love and compassion in your life; that’s a fact.”

Sad to say, but not surprising, Bush thinks all these Americans in prison belong there. He might think Social Security is screwed up and Iraq needed saving but he has no questions about America and its prisoners.

All of which gives our stranger something to think about as he drives north from Great Falls, toward Havre and the Hi-Line where most of the counties have less then two persons a square mile. With its 150,000 residents, the northcentral Montana region has its problems. And poverty within this region is the highest in the United States.

JACKIE CORR lives in Butte, Montana. He can be reached at: jcorr@bigskyhsd.com











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