Saturday, January 26, 2013

ALEC, For-Profit Criminal Justice, and Wisconsin

Topics: CorporationsDemocracyLobbyingPolitics, Propaganda
 As the first half of 2011 has revealed, Wisconsin is not a moderate "purple" state, but a state divided between staunchly "blue" progressives and righteous "red" right-wingers. That rift is particularly apparent in legislative conflicts over the criminal justice system, a debate spurred by corporate interests represented in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and perpetuated by ALEC legislative members, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Wisconsin's history and public policy reflects the red/blue divide. It is the state that gave birth to the Republican Party, which supported slavery abolition, and the John Birch Society, which opposed the civil rights movement. In the first half of the 20th Century, the state elected bothprogressive hero Robert "Fighting Bob" LaFollette and right-wing extremist Joe McCarthy. It is the state that elected both former Senator Russ Feingold (D) and Representative Paul Ryan (R).
Wisconsin also produced Paul Weyrich, who in 1973 co-founded both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC (and in subsequent years, Free Congress and Moral Majority). Weyrich's ALEC, it seems, has been a factory for many of the state's most recent right-wing policy initiatives.

Wisconsin's Progressive Traditions Resist For-Profit Prisons and Bail-Bonds


Frontline Gets Its Man: Lanny Breuer Leaves DOJ After Exposé

In a testament to the power of independent media, the award-winning public television show Frontline this week helped push a top Department of Justice (DOJ) official out the door.
On Tuesday, Frontline aired a report called "The Untouchables" detailing the DOJ's failure to prosecute the big banks for the 2008 financial meltdown and zeroing in on Lanny Breuer, the former White House legal counsel for Clinton who headed the DOJ's criminal division under Obama.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Breuer was stepping down.

Breuer's Legacy: Enshrining "Too Big to Jail" as Legal Precedent

Many had criticized Attorney General Eric Holder and Breuer for failing to take action against the mega banks on Wall Street, and watched with disbelief last December as the DOJ decided to pass on criminal penalties against HSBC for laundering drug money and helping to finance terrorists. The behemoth bank was ordered to pay a record civil fine, but no criminal charges were lodged against any HSBC official. A New York Times editorial called the decision a "dark day for the rule of law."
But this time around, the Frontline crew had unparalleled access to Breuer which generated a number of key revelations:
Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder failed to use the tools available to them to really dig.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Christian" Prison to be built in Wakita, Ok and to use Prison Industry under Federal PIECP Program

Bob Sloan

Corrections Concepts, Inc., a Dallas based non-profit is working to get Wakita, Oklahoma to sponsor the building of a new private prison. The facility would be the first all Christian prison in the U.S. Volunteering inmates would be supervised by Christian guards, and staffers. In addition, the inmates would work at the facility in a prison industry under the federal PIECP program. However, Corrections Concepts intends to not abide by the PIECP mandatory requirements of paying inmate workers in the program prevailing wages - instead choosing to pay them federal minimum wages - for their labor. This is what got me interested in this story.

The avoidance of paying prevailing wages was first presented by Corrections Concepts founder, Bill Robinson to Texas Governor Bush in 1995 when Bush's support was sought. Bush so liked the idea of combining faith-based community initiatives with prison industries for prison inmates, in the following year (1996) he authored Resolutions there in Texas making it easier for such initiative programs to get state tax dollars for their operations. Once in the White House, Bush brought the concept with him, establishingWhite House Offices of Faith-Based Community Initiative satellite offices in every Federal Department and Agency including the Department of Justice that oversees the PIECP program. Bush did this by Executive Orders within days of taking office in 2001.

PIECP-Violations opposes the building of such a "Christian" prison in Wakita, Oklahoma - not on just religious grounds, but also due to the stated intention of not abiding by the federal PIECP requirements regarding the planned prison industries. Too many prison industries and their private sector partners are already taking advantage of this important program, by not paying prevailing wages to the inmate workers. This allows for more corporate and prison industry profits at the expense of the work force. In addition it provides these violators with an unfair advantage over private sector companies who manufacture the same or similar products on the open markets. I exchanged emails with Mr. Robinson and was unpleasantly surprised by his attitude, religious zeal and willingness to believe anyone who opposes him is "Godless" or "one sick puppy". These communications are available to read and for those of you who want to read them for yourself, I've made them available. Scroll down the page here. While many in the media articles about his Christian Prison efforts were objecting to the concept, Robinson chose me to single out and attack. Maybe it was because like him I was an ex-offender and he felt more comfortable going after me instead of the others who voiced the same objections as I. My main objection to his proposal was due to that part that stated he wanted to use inmates in his prison industries under PIECP and underpay them with minimum wages instead of the required prevailing wages. Robinson has denied he would pay wages less than required by PIECP in his rants to me, but the first paragraph of his "Curriculum" is clearly worded with "minimum hourly wage". Like PRIDE in Florida, Mr. Robinson refuses to see any real difference between prevailing and minimum wage rates.

Should Christian Run Prisons be allowed in the U.S.?

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White supremacy and mass incarceration

The 1987 McCleskey v. Kemp decision reinforced a
long history racial discrimination in the American criminal
justice system. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS [EPA]
Republicans join the Left in calls for American prison reform but ignore the relevance of racism and social justice.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2013 09:31

In a 2011 opinion piece in the Washington Post, Newt Gingrich said, “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential…The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.” An advocacy group called Right on Crime is spearheading Republican efforts to “demand more cost effective approaches that enhance public safety.” Signatories to its statement of principles include, in addition to Gingrich, other notable Republicans like Jeb Bush and Grover Norquist. A recent Washington Monthly article celebrated the right’s new focus on crime claiming it would “put the nation on a path to a more rational and humane correctional system.”

But by focusing on achieving “a cost effective middle ground,” Republican reform strategies end up eschewing the relevance of social justice and largely ignoring racial disparities and the disruptive social costs created by mass incarceration. 

Justice and white supremacy

The travesty of mass incarceration and its devastating social effects and of the malfeasance of American jurisprudence cannot be measured purely in terms of economic rationality. It is an issue deeply entwined with long histories of racial oppression and white supremacy. True reform will require grappling with this larger problem.

A 1987 Supreme Court case illustrates what I mean when I say that the justice system is saturated with racism. In McCleskey v. Kemp, the Court declined to define the death penalty as racially discriminatory. The case involved the appeal of the death sentence for Warren McCleskey, a Georgia man convicted of armed robbery and the murder of a white policeman. In his appeal McCleskey cited research analysing 2000 Georgia homicides over an eight year period beginning in 1972 that found black defendants were nearly twice as likely to be sentenced to death as white defendants.
The research, described as the “most sophisticated study of the criminal justice system in the 20th century,” also found that the death sentence was applied 4.3 times more often when the murder victim was white. McCleskey’s appeal (based upon the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection and the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment), argued that the death sentence was racially biased. Justice Powell, in the majority opinion, accepted the general validity of the data and the likelihood that race was a factor in death penalty cases,  but wrote that in the specific case of Warren McCleskey there was no proof of “the existence of purposeful discrimination.”

We connected the dots between corporations, politicians, 
and extreme billspouring out of the American Legislative Exchange Council.Our research helped push 42 major corporations out of ALEC. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thinking About Think Tanks: Which Ones Are The Best?

Cato Institute ranks among the top free-market thinks
tanks in North America. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The history of the London exchange dates back to 1698. John Castaing, a pioneer of a Starbucks of sorts, started listing stock and commodity prices in his Jonathan’s Coffee-house. In 1773, brokers erected their own building nearby, and soon their place was named “The Stock Exchange.” Companies were very diverse, evaluating them was essential to decide where to invest. Interest (or nominal yield) and risk were the two main factors. It took centuries for the price/earnings ratios and other indices to evolve.

When new institutions and corporations emerge, it is always difficult to find the proper measurement to appraise them. In the early years of the information technology revolution, it was a hard task to estimate the value of a company—and as the latest Facebook IPO shows, it is still a challenge. At almost the same time of the emergence of this revolution, another more modest “industry” was about to take off: public policy think tanks.

And what about them? Some think tanks are obviously more effective than others. Evaluating, measuring, or estimating their outcomes, and ranking them, has not been easy for their donors, one of their main clients. In 1985 I joined a foundation devoted to help start and support market-oriented think tanks. Since then I have been tracking and trying to evaluate market-oriented think tanks.
A “market-oriented” think tank is grounded on the reality that respect for private property within a context of rule of law with limited government has been the path for  the wealth of nations. Think tanks that are not market-oriented study how to redistribute wealth, how to increase taxation, or  the optimum rate of monetary debasement. Governments have typically relied on their own internal think tanks for that research, and complemented it by research from state-subsidized universities. Market-oriented think tanks focus on finding private solutions to public problems.

After a long career helping support and giving advice to think tanks around the world, Dr. James McGann, at the University of Pennsylvania, recently began compiling a comprehensive list of think tanks. The first list, released in 2006, had no evaluations. He soon asked those who nominated think tanks to rank them. The list of nominators and evaluators has grown to over 1,000. Like with any index or ranking, there is much to improve and the authors always welcome constructive advice. A preliminary version of the “2012 Global Go To Report” was released last week at the World Bank and the United Nations. It can be found on line at  READ MORE

Sunday, January 20, 2013

UPDATED: 5 People Shot At 3 Different Gun Shows On Gun Appreciation Day

By Adam Peck on Jan 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm
If the gun advocates behind this year’s inaugural Gun Appreciation Day had hoped to use the day’s festivities to build support for their anti-regulation platform, they are going to have to wait another year. Emergency personnel had to be called to the scene of the Dixie Gun and Knife Show in Raleigh, North Carolina after a gun accidentally discharged and shot two people at the show’s safety check-in booth just after 1 pm. Both victims were transported to an area hospital, and the Raleigh Fire Department announced that the show would be closed for the rest of the day. Gun Appreciation Day is the combined effort of dozens of far-right organizations who have been vocal opponents of gun control advocates’ efforts to reduce the number of dangerous weapons on our streets and prevent them from ending up in the hands of people with criminal backgrounds or a history of mental illness. In response to a renewed push for sensible reforms of gun laws after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, groups like the National Rifle Association and the founders of Gun Appreciation Day have instead advocated for an increase in the number of guns in public places like elementary schools, arguing — falsely — that more guns will mean more protection for individuals. But today’s unfortunate accident, which took place at a safety check in surrounded by hundreds of people who presumably have at least some training on how to properly handle a dangerous weapon, undermines that case. Earlier this week, an armed security officer at a Michigan charter school accidentally left his gun in a restroom that is regularly used by students as young as five years old. A representative from Political Media, the group responsible for organizing Gun Appreciation Day, was not immediately available for comment.