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Replacing Mental Hospitals With Prisons
The driving force behind closing US mental hospitals was the advent of new antipsychotics, which enabled many (but not all) mentally ill individuals to be treated in the community. At the time, the public was promised that money saved from closing down state institutions would be used to provide outpatient treatment in the community. However with the advent of Reaganomics in 1980, this never happened. Rather than increasing, funding for community mental health steadily declined. And as more and more options for community care dried up, our penitentiaries steadily filled up with mentally ill non-violent offenders unable to get help in the community.
At considerable cost to the taxpayer, I might add. Given that the costs of keeping a mentally ill individual in a penitentiary are three to six time what it costs to treat them at an outpatient mental health center.
As of 2006, the last time mentally ill offender statistics were compiled, the US prison system had become the largest mental health provider in the country - with nearly fiftey percent of inmates reporting mental health problems. Another 20-30% are in prison for crimes related to substance abuse (for which they never get treatment, either in prison or in the community).
High Prison Rates Are Economically Driven
Aside from the absolute barbarity of a criminal justice system that warehouses vulnerable mentally ill patients with sociopathic violent offenders, what troubles me even more is that the main drivers of our skyrocketing incarceration rate are no longer political - but economic.
Arguments that more prisons and longer sentences are essential to deter violent criminals fly in the face of crime statistics pointing to a steady decline in both violent and property crime since 1990. Yet rates of incarceration in the US continue to climb.
Presently the US has more people (2.1 million) in prison than any other country in the world. In fact we recently exceeded China, which has 1.6 million prisoners, despite having four times the population. Statistics also show that nearly half (one million) of our prison population are inside for non-violent offenses.
In other words, despite the political reality that our prisons our costing taxpayers billions of dollars by warehousing people who could receive better treatment and management in the community, there are powerful economic incentives to lock more of them up. Because incarceration and detention has turned into a multibillion dollar growth industry.
It’s also no surprise that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Wackenhut and the sixteen other for-profit prison companies are all big donors to the campaigns of federal and state lawmakers seeking to expand both prison populations and prison privatization (CCA, which has a monopoly on running immigration detention facilities, also helped write the Arizona anti-immigration law - see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741
To say nothing of the dozens of US corporations employing cheap prison labor (as an alternative to outsourcing to third world countries) to improve their bottom line.
Profit, Not Crime, Drives Prison-Building Spree
Imprisoning people has become a multibillion industry with its own trade shows, conventions, mail order catalogs and direct marketing. I encourage people to check out Robert Sloan's excellent blog at http://sloan-wwwpiecp-violations.blogspot.com/ regarding the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate lobby group responsible for helping major corporate players to enrich themselves (building private prisons and contracting for dirt cheap prison labor are just two examples) from the public trough at taxpayer expense. Sloan documents some of ALEC's more questionable activities much more clearly than I can here.
Sloan also maintains an up-to-date website regarding his watchdog activities regarding for-profit prison scams at http://www.piecp-violations.com/
Who's Making Big Bucks From Prison Privatization?
From my cursory survey of Internet sources, I have identified at least six places along the food chain where people are turning over profits (at taxpayer expense) in the booming prison business:
Private companies that provide food services, health care, and assorted security paraphernalia to prisons.
Bed brokers who, in Texas, earn $2.50 - 5.50 per man-day (for the duration of a prisoner's sentence) by recruiting prisoners from out of state.
Major corporations, the best known are BP, Dell, TWA, Compaq, J.C. Penny, Best Western Hotels, Honda, Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Victoria's Secret, and Boeing, who save on labor costs by employing cheap prison labor (0 to $1.50 per hour - the average is 40 cents).
Exploiting prison labor for telemarketing and call centers turns out to be far cheaper than outsourcing overseas, especially with rising labor costs in economic boom countries like India and China. It was very likely a prisoner who took your credit card details if you recently made a reservation with TWA or Best Western Hotels. However BP clearly deserves the shameless arrogance award for employing prison labor to clean up the massive Gulf oil spill, instead of local New Orleans residents they put out of work.
Implications for Prison Reform
The economic factors that drive growing incarceration rates have some very important ramifications for prison reform advocates:
Activists wanting to end prison privatization should contact Grassroots Leadership at http://www.grassrootsleadership.org, which is aggressively campaigning to end this atrocity.
Speculating with Our Food
(July 5, 2011)
In 2011, “food derivative” speculation has replaced financial derivatives as the hot new investment promoted by major investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. According to new research from the World Development Movement, the same banks that caused the 2008 economic crash are also responsible for skyrocketing food prices (see http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf). According to the Ecologist, it’s estimated that in 2010 Goldman Sachs made $1 billion in profits from food speculation. The really scary news is that in addition to heavy speculation in food commodities, private investment companies are also buying up huge tracts of land in the third world.
Trading in Commodities Futures
Investors have always had the ability to trade in commodities futures (i.e. buy a 2012 bushel of corn at a fixed price before it’s produced). However the commodities market has always been so volatile that serious investors have viewed it in the same category as roulette and horse racing. Recently, however, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and other investment banks have used factors that appear to threaten food security – extreme weather events, water shortages and increasing demand due to the Asian economic boom – to aggressively pitch “agri” funds to investors. The ultimate effect of massive trading in food futures is to drive up the current cost of food, in the same way the subprime mortgage bubble massively inflated the cost of real estate prior to the 2008 economic crash.
The difference is that high food prices are a life or death issue for billions of people around the world. Yet the issue is virtually invisible in the US media.
The Great Land Grab
A 2009 research project by the Oakland Institute (The Great Land Grab http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/) reveals startling facts about the corporate land grab in the third world – another major factor in skyrocketing food prices. The Spain-based non-governmental organization GRAIN was the first to raise the alarm about massive third world corporate land purchases in its October 2008 brief, Seized! The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IF PRI) reports that foreign investors sought or secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland in the developing world between 2006 and mid-2009.
In addition to the role played by investment banks and equity funds, multilateral institutions like the International Financial Corporation (the private sector branch of the World Bank) are also major players in the “corporatization” of global agriculture. The IFC plays a dual role in increasing private investment in the third world – via direct investment and by lobbying developing countries to create “business enabling environments.” Another World Bank agency, The Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS ), also plays a role in pressuring third world governments to improve their “investment climate,” by relaxing environmental, tenant rights and food security laws and abolishing tax and duties on foreign investments.
Corporatizing the Global Food Supply
Africa is the major target, both for western investment banks and booming Asian economies, driving tens of thousands of subsistence farmers off land they have farmed for generations. According to the Oakland Institute, a UK company started in 1997 called Emergent Asset Management claims to be the largest speculative fund investing in African industrial agriculture. Emergent uses private equity to take control of large tracts of African farm land for transformation into factory farms. Their prospectus attracts investors by predicting a armed conflict between the West and China will trigger mass food shortages – accompanied by price spikes that guarantee handsome investment returns.
Emergent’s founders, Susan Payne and David Murrin are former high level traders for Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan – well-known as the architects of food derivative speculation (http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf). Payne joined JP Morgan in 1986 and moved to Goldman Sachs International in 1993 as an Executive Director and Head of Sales and Trading. In the latter role, she was responsible for developing Goldman Sachs’ emerging markets debt business in Europe. David Murrin joined JP Morgan in 1986, where he traded (i.e. speculated) on the major bond, interest rate, bullion, foreign exchange and equity markets.
Emergent’s direct control of large amounts of agricultural land – combined with its ability to attract investors through its equity fund – puts unprecedented control of the global food supply in private hands. It does so by creating a new type of vertical integration, in which a single company controls vast amounts of land, food production and processing – while simultaneously inflating global food prices due to the speculative nature of the fund. This is made clear in the video Emergent uses in their pitch to investors: http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/emergent-video.
The Perp Walk
On June 30, 2011, the Oakland Institute released a second report fingering other millionaires and billionaires playing a major role in the African land grab. The report also details unscrupulous deals with corrupt African leaders, who sign away land rights without consulting other community members – as well as the direct role some of these funds play in armed attacks on villagers who refuse to leave their land. Some of the names include:
Bruce Rastetter – CEO of Pharos Ag, which has bought more than 300,000 hectares in Tanzania for large-scale food crop, beef, poultry, and biofuel production. This project will displace tens of thousands of civil war refugees awaiting Tanzanian citizenship.
Leonard Henry Thatcher and David Neiman – runs Nile Trading and Development (NTD), which has bought 600,000 hectares in South Sudan, through a secret agreement with influential locals who went behind the backs of other community members.
Kevin Godlington – (close associate of former prime minister Tony Blair), CEO of Crad-l and Director of Sierra Leone Agriculture (SLA) and its parent company, the UK-based CAPARO Renewable Agriculture Developments. SLA has bought 43,000 hectares in Sierra Leone to plant palm oil plantations.
The CFTC Refuses to Implement the Financial Reform Act
For me the biggest scandal (which the US media has also spiked) is the refusal of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to implement rules preventing speculation in oil and food futures that were part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act passed in July 2010. As of May 27, 2011, the CFTC (under fierce pressure from Wall Street lobbyists) had yet to implement rules the Financial Reform Act required them to implement by January 17, 2011. See http://news.firedoglake.com/2011/05/27/sanders-accuses-cftc-of-breaking-the-law/
This flagrant disregard of Congressional authority is yet another example of the breakdown of democratic government in the US. It’s Obama’s role, as the executive branch of government, to enact the laws enacted by Congress. For him refuse to do so represents a major Constitutional crisis and is grounds for impeachment.
Fluoride the New Lead
(December 12, 2010)
It took decades to “prove” that even low-level lead exposure caused mental retardation and behavioral problems in children. In 1973 when I graduated from medical school, there was a mountain of compelling evidence of the terrible things lead in paint and auto exhaust was doing to kids. However under pressure from corporate interests (the companies who put lead in gasoline and paint), the medical establishment still officially proclaimed that at “subclinical levels,” lead was totally safe.
Fortunately Nixon’s newly created Environmental Protection Agency stood up to the corporate elite in 1973. Taking the emphatic position that low-level lead exposure was posing a direct threat to public health, they forced the US auto industry (in 1975) to produce cars that would run on unleaded gasoline. The use of lead-based paint in homes was banned in 1978.
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