Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Zero-Sum Game

What a time to be alive! Will things ever get any better? Are they going to get even worse? Just when We the People  make some inroads in the rights to clean water (see last week's piece on The Lake Erie Bill of Rights and their recent press release, below) corporate interests and paid-off politicians seem to be scheming to throw the measure off the ballot. We can't have ordinary people practicing democracy, can we? 

It seems like we'll never catch a break. Why would anyone--private citizens or corporations--want heavily polluted water? Dirty water can't sustain life and it will clog up factory pipes and fittings. Are capitalists truly that short sighted? It seems like they're using us, like they're playing a game... A  Zero-Sum Game.

 The Zero-Sum Game
by Coast Watcher

Definition of zero-sum: Of, relating to, or being a situation (such as a game or relationship) in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side

        Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The wildfires currently raging in California have broken all records for size and destruction caused. Firefighters work twenty-four hour shifts combating the blaze. Working and fighting alongside them are men, women and even juvenile inmates from the California state penal system. Where professional firefighters are paid $74,000 yearly and benefits for risking their lives in public service, inmates receive a mere $2 a day, plus an extra dollar if they’re fighting an active fire.

To be eligible as volunteers inmates must not be serving a life sentence or a sentence for arson, sex crimes, kidnapping, gang affiliation or escape attempts. They undergo training in firefighting techniques and field conditions for two weeks before taking a physical exam. Once they pass, they live in one of forty-three low security compounds across the state. They do get some cheap benefits of their own from volunteering to serve. Their compounds allow more freedom than the strict prison regime. The food is better. Families are also allowed to use barbecue pits for their visits and can often spend the night in nearby cabins.

These perks don’t mitigate the fact convict conflagration fighters are poorly paid and risk their lives every time they go out to a blaze. As if that isn’t enough, unlike regular firefighters, their families do not receive compensation for loss of life should the felon firefighter be killed on the job. Once they leave jail none of them can even count their service as a firefighter in their job resumes.

Felons make up to 30% of the Californian fire fighting complement, and the state saves an estimated $80 million a year by employing them. “These are very dangerous jobs,” Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told Newsweek. “Anytime you see prisoners doing work, they don’t have the same kind of job security or right to complain about unsafe conditions. They can’t quit or go work for different jobs. They either do the job as they’re told to do it or they go back to regular prison. This is a captive group of workers being asked to put their lives on the line.”

Zero-Sum game. The State of California takes a great deal from these people, far more than the value of the crimes committed by the felons, many of whom are African-American or Latino, in jail for minor offenses such as marijuana possession. If you think not adequately compensating felon firefighters for their risky work is bad, consider the practice of convict leasing.

The "leasing" of prisoners as labor to private concerns began in the mid-nineteenth century, and continued well into the twentieth, particularly in the South. Corporations such as United States Steel and the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company used felon laborers, earning the states that used the practice a lucrative sum of money. Working conditions were the worst in the United States. To quote Matthew J. Mancini, it was “One of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history.”

The practice was formally outlawed by Alabama, the last state to use it, in 1928, although it persisted in various forms until it was abolished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 12, 1941. But of course the practice didn’t end there.

Cheap or preferably free labor is the corporate wet dream to end all wet dreams. Influenced by corporate lobbying, in 1979 Congress enacted the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. This permits American companies to use prison labor for virtually no cost. The dramatic increase in the American prison population, especially since the introduction of controversial "three strikes" laws across the country, has provided corporate America with a formidable – and largely cost free – labor pool.

Thanks to the Federal Bureau of Prisons UNICOR program, American companies made over $500 million in sales during 2016 alone. Little of that cash ever found its way to the felon workers. California, already profiting from felon firefighters, also made over $232 million in 2017.

"But isn’t this unconstitutional?" you might ask. Unfortunately not.

Although the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, it made an exception – a loophole for “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” which made prison labor possible.

Zero-Sum game. Corporate America takes a great deal from these people, far more than the value of the crimes committed by the felons, many of whom are minorities in jail for minor offenses such as marijuana possession.

With criminal convictions escalating by the year, the labor pool is growing. An increasingly autocratic and dictatorial government is enacting and enforcing more laws every month, which means the felon labor pool will grow larger yet. Perhaps the ultimate historical example of the Zero Sum game is King Leopold II of Belgium's personal ownership of the Congo.

Dismayed at the gradual erosion of kingly power and authority in 19th century Europe, Leopold sought a means of making money. Money is, of course, power. He persuaded the United States and then all the major nations of western Europe to recognize a huge swath of Central Africa – roughly the same territory as the modern-day Democratic Republic of the Congo – as his personal property. Named the Congo Free State, it was the world’s only private colony, and Leopold referred to himself as its proprietor.

Leopold’s rule over the African domain lasted for twenty three years (1885-1908) during which time he had near exclusive control of the world’s rubber production. Disguised as a charitable institution, the Free State was run as a brutal business enterprise with the enslaved population of the Congo as its workforce. Leopold made a vast sum of money from the profits. His wealth was estimated at anywhere between $100 and $500 million – at the top end that’s $14 billion by today’s exchange rate. 

Leopold was one of the world's first billionaires. Worse yet, he was one of the world's largest slave owners. Creating that wealth cost ten million Africans their lives – roughly 50% of the Congolese population at that time through summary execution and disease. Failure to make the rubber crop quota was punished by mutilation. The cutting off of hands and ears was a favorite method of punishment for Leopold’s overseers.

Eventually knowledge of conditions in the Congo leaked out to the world. The resulting outcry proved enough to force Leopold to relinquish his control over the country. Will something similar force the United States to reform its penal system to respect human rights?

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. I don’t think he’d be at all impressed by how his Republican party descendants are exploiting more and more Americans for the sake of pure profit. Perhaps the US is a long way from the totally enslaved population and Zero-Sum production value of nineteenth century Congo, but I think the administrations of the previous thirty+ years have taken a major step in that direction.

Related articles:






Mancini, Matthew J. (1996). One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. ISBN9781570030833. p. 1-2.

$1 An Hour To Fight Largest Fire in CA History: Are Prison Firefighting Programs Slave Labor? (video and transcript)

BIO:  Coast Watcher has studied history and notes the patterns of behavior that humans in power seem to repeat. No way do we ever want to create another Congo Free State! Fight back and expose the US for-profit prison complex for what it is--yet another way the super wealthy exploit the labor of the workers.

Lake Erie Bill of Rights Petition Meets Signature Requirements for November 2018 Ballot Access

Discussions continue behind closed doors as Toledoans await decision


August 13, 2018
Markie Miller
Crystal Jankowski
Toledoans for Safe Water
Toledo residents promoting a local initiative, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR), for placement on the November ballot, want  to know how many valid voter signatures are needed.The group turned in petitions bearing 10,500 signatures on August 6. The Lucas County Board of Elections notified the Clerk of Toledo City Council on Friday that at least 6,438 were verified as current voters. But the City is still unable to tell the LEBOR campaigners if that is enough to get LEBOR on the ballot.

On August 1, the group's attorney, Terry Lodge, notified Dale Emch, City Law Director, and Gerald Dedinger, Assistant Clerk of Council, that current Ohio law, as determined twice in recent years by the Ohio Supreme Court, requires submission of 5, 244 verified signatures, using a calculation based on the number of voters in the 2017 municipal election. Mr. Emch advised Mr. Lodge on August 3 via email that "While I don’t disagree with your reading of the Heubner opinion (one of the leading Ohio Supreme Court decisions on the subject), the Law Department will not issue an opinion as to how Section 5 of our Charter should be read in light of that ruling."  

Why can’t the City Law Department issue an opinion? “The Lake Erie Bill of Rights is the strongest effort anywhere in Ohio to break a fixed system and fix a broken lake,” said Bryan Twitchell, one of the campaign leaders. “With the signatures counted, and clear legal precedence, there is no reason for the City’s apparent reticence. Any attempt to delay or prevent this issue going to ballot should be interpreted as a violation of the democratic principle that undergird our society, and an attempt by our representatives to stop we, the people, from acting in our own best interests,” he added.

"The number of verified signatures is the highest for a citywide initiative in recent decades and it is the people’s right to place laws on the ballot by initiative,"observed Mike Ferner of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie. "The City should quickly qualify the petition for the November ballot so we can begin a good discussion on it."

Toledoans for Safe Water made every attempt to obtain an answer from city officials prior to the deadline for submission and asserts that there should be no question at this time as to whether or not their initiative has access to the November ballot. The LEBOR amendment would codify rights of nature in the Toledo city charter and enable citizens and the city of Toledo to deny corporate and government entities the right to pollute the Lake Erie ecosystem by establishing stronger environmental standards than those Ohio currently uses.


It's no game--lives are at stake here. We need to keep this dialog going or else we'll let those who exploit us win.
The Revolution Continues has set up an easy way to donate to the cause of keeping it ad-free. We've gone three years without those obnoxious ads (that many news sites have to cover costs). It's been great, but the editor does have to pay for internet, electricity, etc., out of her own pocket. She would like to be able to pay her contributors in the future.

Please consider donating a buck, $5, $10 or $100--any amount you can share with us to keep this progressive site going without those awful ads is appreciated. Help us become a strong alternative voice protesting against the corrupt establishment and its paid-off corporate mouthpieces. Give to TRC today. Thank you.

You can donate via Paypal at http://paypal.me/camatthews 

Power to the people and not the corporations!


A toddler died shortly after she was released from a U.S. immigrant detention facility. Demand justice.
Sign Now

We have all seen the photos and heard the recordings. At the southern border of the United States, thousands of children have experienced incredible trauma and pain as they are ripped from their parents' arms and locked away in detention centers. But now it's just gotten worse. One detained child has died in Dilley, Texas. 

Sign the petition to demand an investigation into this little girl's death now!
Officials aren't releasing the little girl's name, but we know she was a toddler who was locked away in the Dilley South Texas Family Residential Center. She suffered from a respiratory illness, which activists allege she contracted while in detention. The government did ultimately release her from their prison-like facility, but shortly afterwards, she died.

The government is denying that they had anything to do with this child's death, but lawyers say they have witnessed rampant neglect and inadequacies at Dilley. 

We must hold those responsible for this little girl's death accountable. Sign the petition to help us show that the public is watching and we will not allow this cruelty to go unchallenged.
Thank you for all that you do,

Miranda B.
The Care2 Petitions Team
P.S. A little girl has just died after being detained. We cannot sit back and ignore this horror. Will you sign the petition to demand justice?
From Move to Amend:

As Move to Amend continues to work to pass the We the People Amendment, which includes two parts: corporations are NOT people and money is NOT speech, we are also part of a coalition working together to pass the new DISCLOSE Act. 


The new DISCLOSE Act has been introduced in Congress, and it's stronger than ever:
  • It requires secret money groups to report their funders
  • Includes robust follow-the-money rules to reveal contributors hiding behind front groups
  • Requires leaders of corporations, unions, and other groups to “stand by their ads"
The bill is gaining traction in Congress, and with support from Republican members, could help hold back the tide of corruption until the We the People Amendment passes.  

Please sign the DISCLOSE Act petition now! 

The DISCLOSE Act will help put a stop to millionaries and corporations running our "democracy" while Move to Amend passes the We the People Amendment. Help us get there!
In solidarity,
Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap
National Director

P.S. We're not letting up one bit in the fight for the We the People Amendment, but in the meantime, before we win, the DISCLOSE Act would help make sure we at least know where the money is coming from. Sign the petition to tell your Congressmembers to support the DISCLOSE Act!


  1. Great news about the Lake Erie Bill of Rights! I can see it'll be hugely beneficial to the people living all around the lake.

    1. Yes, it will be--and beyond. Establishing a rights of nature law will help others protect their water supply--be it a lake, river or aquifer. Power to the people! #WaterIsLife


Please feel free to share your thoughts with us. Just one rule: Be polite. This means no profanity or cursing. No shaming or hate speech. No threats or silliness. This is a family friendly blog. Thank you.