Feb 152012

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Chris Kirkham, Huffington Post

English: Daugavpils prison

Image via Wikipedia

Support the privateers and this is what you get. It starts with rigged banking, trade and tax policy that bleeds the average citizen and starves the government­. Once they’ve sucked enough wealth out of the general population and have government on life support, the privateers strike, offering their poisoned transfusio­n to save the dying body. These corporatio­ns and the people who support them are counter-pa­triots. They will sacrifice the wellbeing of our nation in order to line their pockets with the spoils of economic war.

Privateering is a parasitical process that’s grown increasingly prominent since the economic collapse of 2008. Seeking hosts that can be tapped and drained, predator companies prey upon weakened public entities with which they can strike their Faustian bargain. Roads, bridges, ports . . . even parking meters are on the auction block; private prisons just happen to be one of the most lucrative and fast growing targets of those who seek to exploit the commons for personal gain.

But just like the proverbial poison apple, while these deals may seem to offer immediate relief for public budgets depleted of revenue in a stagnant economy, what they deliver is lethal venom for the public good.

Chicago residents learned this lesson the hard way, when their city officials made a pact with Morgan Stanley to lease rights to the city’s 36,000 parking meters. The deal that gave a largely foreign group of investors (a huge slice going to Abu Dhabi) control for 75 years, went for just over $1 billion. Surely a nice infusion of cash, but considering that the devil’s deal gave the new Chicago Parking Meters LLC complete control, including the ability to charge the city for any loss of revenue, the long term prospects for the city were far less rosy.

Indeed, the people of Chicago soon found parking rates previously set at $0.25 per hour were hiked to $1.00 and more. They also found that they were unable to close streets or perform maintenance without compensating the privateers who billed the city at rates that valued the billion-dollar lease at $5 billion. Late last year, the city received a $13 million invoice from CPM for “lost revenue from drivers who used disabled parking placards to get free parking at the city’s meters.

The reality is that private company profits and the “general Welfare” for which our nation and public entities are constituted are often mutually exclusive goals. Numerous studies, looking at everything from schools and healthcare to security and military, have shown how cost-ineffective privatization can be. One recent study completed by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) concluded that “the government pays billions more annually in taxpayer dollars to hire contractors than it would to hire federal employees to perform comparable services.

Hard facts consistently belie the arguments used to support privatization, and nowhere are the myth and reality more contradictory than when it comes to private prisons. Not only was the U.S. Department of Justice forced to conclude that the cost savings promised by private prisons “have simply not materialized,” but risks regarding incarceration rates, recidivism, rehabilitation and safety are also often made worse.

The bottom line is that privatization most often benefits only the privateers. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to understand that misaligned interests tend to result in divergent outcomes. As a society, we should seek to establish a system that maximizes our human resources by putting people to work in the most productive manner possible. That goal is naturally at odds with those who seek to profit from increasingly incarceration — the least productive of human activities.

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Sep 202011

If your doctor gave you a prescription to improve your health, and it made you deathly ill, would you follow said doctor’s orders to take ever-increasing dosages?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d label the doctor either an incompetent quack or an unscrupulous shill for the pharmaceutical company; you’d stop taking medicine that was killing you, and you’d seek alternative treatment.

It’s all so obvious: you believe that something will be beneficial, so you give it a try, but once your experience proves that your faith was misplaced — you dummy up. You learn from your mistake and move forward a wiser person.

So, why is it that what seems so obvious in a healthcare scenario, and would also apply without exception if dealing with a mechanic, a lawyer, a contractor, or pretty much anyone else, somehow winds up being lost entirely in the world of politics?

More to the point: how is it possible, after experiencing the catastrophic results of conservative economic policy, that there’s a single American (who’s not either a Republican politician or some other member of the Top 1%) still willing to give the GOP Rx for the economy another nanosecond of consideration?

When King Solomon said that “there is nothing new under the sun,” he couldn’t possibly have done a better job at describing GOP economic policy. From the plans being offered by the illustrious ranks of Republican presidential candidates to those recently articulated by House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, their prescription is nothing but more of the same poison that crashed the American economy, blew unemployment up to historic levels, and fueled concentration of wealth not seen since the Great Depression.

The GOP Rx for the economy is ever-static and never works. Whether you’re talking decades ago or focused on today, it always consists of the same triple threat to the American people: cut taxes for the wealthy, deregulate, and privatize government along with the commons. They wrap their rhetoric up in a flag, label their plan as “job creating,” and somehow manage to sell the same warmed-over economic Vioxx time and again.

The truth of the matter is that we’ve already tried every element of the Republican plan, all to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans.

According to the GOP, we must lower taxes on the wealthy (a.k.a. the “job creators”) in order to address unemployment. Of course, tax rates today are at record lows with the total income tax burden at its lowest point since 1950 — a fact that begs the question, “Why don’t we already have the jobs?”

Well, the answer is that lowering taxes on the wealthy doesn’t create jobs. It never has and never will, yet whenever the opportunity arises, the GOP snake oil dealers come out of the woodwork offering the same poisonous tonic. Bush did it in 2001, promising 800,000 jobs from his Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, but the $1.6 trillion tax cut, that gave fully half of the savings to the Top 1%, didn’t actually create any jobs. In fact, following the cuts, we lost 2.7 million jobs by May of 2003.

In contrast, Bill Clinton had the unmitigated gall to raise taxes on the rich, which if GOP prognosticators were right should have been a death knell for job creation. But instead of the Republican predictions of an apocalypse, of a market collapse and dire straits for the economy, we entered into the most prosperous peacetime economy in American history. BLS records show that 22.7 million jobs were created under President Clinton and a paltry 1.08 million under George W. Bush. It seems pretty obvious which president had the better prescription for the American economy.

Once all of the hype is pushed aside, it’s plain to see that tax cuts for the rich have little to do with job creation and instead achieve only the one thing that the average person might expect — they make the rich even richer. They lead to the banana republic style distribution of wealth that now has the U.S. ranking 98th amongst 136 nations measured by the Gini index of income inequality — worse than Iran — worse than freaking China! But what can you expect when our top 1% now holds more financial wealth than the bottom 95% of the population?

So, maybe the GOP is wrong about tax cuts but right about deregulation. Maybe present calls to repeal Dodd-Frank to “free up Wall St.” are just the prescription for prosperity we need. Maybe there is validity in Michelle Bachmann’s claim that financial reform is “killing the banking industry.” And maybe Sarah Palin will actually run for president, there really is an Easter Bunny, and the GOP truly does give a fat flying flip about working Americans.

The deregulation story is actually scarier than the tax cut myth. It was deregulation that gave birth to the derivative market, allowed unfettered access to credit default swaps, tore down the barrier between investment and commercial banking, and created the Wall St. casino that bled the middle class for 30% of their combined wealth and sent unemployment to levels not seen since the last tax cutting, deregulating, military spending GOP buffoon, Ronald Reagan, sent the rate over 10%.

It was George W. Bush’s dismantling of the regulatory structure that gave us the housing bubble and subsequent economic collapse, allowed the Massey Mine disaster to kill 29 people, and laid the ground work of incompetence that led to the BP oil spill.

Republican style deregulation strips government of its power to carry out it moral mission to protect the people and replaces it with a charade of profit-focused companies pretending to police themselves. It assigns henhouse security to the fox by binding and gagging the farmer. It leads to companies monitoring safety requirements, as it did at Big Branch and in the Gulf, and leaves drug testing to the pharmaceutical companies, as was the case with Merck and their Vioxx pain reliever that caused tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes, and killed nearly 3,500 Americans.

There are no doubt regulations that do place an unnecessary burden on businesses, and they should be addressed, but they are in the minority. Most regulations serve a vital purpose to protect the citizenry from those who would exploit people and planet in order to add to their bottom line.

Government regulation is as necessary as our system of criminal and civil law. It ensures the safety of our food, infrastructure, medicine, energy, transportation system, consumer products, water supply, and workplace — without regulation we cannot have a functional society. Regulatory reform may indeed be essential, but it must be accomplished intelligently and without compromise that sacrifices the moral mission in exchange for the profit motive. Such reform cannot be achieved through GOP “starve the beast” tactics, where funding for the FDA, SEC, FAA or FEMA and OSHA are indiscriminately cut, nor will it happen through attacks on unions, the NRLB or the EPA as proposed by Eric “Corporate Shill” Cantor and his ignorant mob of Tea Party ideologues.

The Republican plan for America is simple: starve government of necessary funding, cripple government by axing regulations, and turn whatever’s left of government over to private enterprise to milk for profits. They ignore the reality that our economy is stalled because of lack of demand stemming from concentration of wealth not seen since the Great Depression. They ignore science, clutching onto the desperate notion that 98% of climate scientists are wrong about global warming in order to justify their loyal support of fossil fuels. And they ignore the selfish drain on the economy presented by the Wall St. casino and fat-cat government contractors who provide services at rates averaging 183% of the costs to simply hire federal workers.

Sadly, none of this matters to the GOP. When facts get in their way, they just invent another marketing phrase, regurgitate more of their distorted talking points, and spin their poison in populist labels like “liberty” and “freedom.” But in spite of their flag waving and lip service for working Americans, the truth of the GOP is that their core mantra remains “government is the problem,” and they will stop at nothing to deliver on their self-fulfilling prophesy.

Make no mistake about it, the GOP Rx is effective. The problem is that the America it’s intended to serve is comprised of only the top 1 to 2% of Americans. The strength of our nation depends upon both a strong democracy and a healthy capitalist economy. Sadly, the Republican Party is willing to trample the rights of the People and decimate that democracy in order to feed the greed of the economic elite.

Americans need to wake up before it’s too late. They need to smell the burning apple pie, and realize that the parasitic capitalist machine is killing its host. Republicans may still talk about jobs and small business, but it should be obvious to the most casual observer that high unemployment and the lower wages it brings are nirvana for GOP strategists, and real small business is anathema for their vision of an American corporatocracy.

The GOP Rx for our economy deserves a grade of “D” for “Death” of the American Dream. And any working American who subscribes to their prescription and believes that the policies that are destroying the middle class will somehow magically start producing a different result deserves a great big “F” for “Fucking Insane!”

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Sep 112011

September 11, 2001: Two airliners strike the World Trade Towers, and 2973 people die. The entire planet watches in horror . . . America weeps. It is the single most deadly attack ever, by a foreign enemy on American soil. Islamic fundamentalists claim a resounding victory. Wounded and stunned, America unites and vows not to let terrorism win.

As I look back on that day, tears well up in my eyes. I still feel the shock and the pain, for though I did not directly experience loss, I feel as though I was personally attacked. The assault was not waged upon my person, but at my beliefs, upon an integral part of who I am. I believe that most Americans feel this way. We will forever carry the sadness of that day in our hearts, but because of what happened afterward, it will always share its place with a sense of national pride. We did come together as a nation.

But now, ten years later, much has changed. We live in the aftermath of an economic collapse that would have left our nation’s largest banks insolvent if not for a massive government bailout. Our jobless rate is at levels not seen in nearly 30 years. We continue to amass virtually unimaginable levels of national debt, and we still have thousands of American troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting the “War on Terror.” Things have changed drastically since 2001. For most Americans, those changes have been for the worse — the worst in my lifetime. That realization begs the question: “Have we allowed the terrorists to win?”

The sense of unity that spread across our great nation in the aftermath of 9/11 is all but completely lost. In its place is a growing division of the people that threatens to destroy the very soul of our country. How has this happened?

Sure, it’s in part a sign of the difficult economic times, but I fear it’s more than that. Even in the most desperate times, American democracy has endured, always upheld by our standard of honest debate and open discussion. But our national “conversation” has changed. Dialog, moderation and compromise have become vestiges of the past. Rancor and vitriol are now the staples of the day, and the only rule of conduct seems to be that there are no rules.

Indeed, the political climate in America today increasingly rewards those who don’t follow any rules, those who will twist the facts, ignore the truth and otherwise do whatever’s required to advance their positions . . . and their careers. Sadly, thoughtful response and honest deliberation are rapidly becoming liabilities. You no longer need to understand the complexities of any given situation; all that’s required is a scatter gun of incendiary rhetoric and the willingness to indiscriminately pull the trigger.

It may have been foreign terrorists who initially set the wheels in motion, but we need not look beyond our shores for those who are to blame for the forces tearing our nation apart. What ails us today is not fear of foreign aggression but rather the internal politics of fear. George W. Bush was quick to seize the day — he positioned himself as the great protector and leveraged the 9/11 attack to justify all manner of aggression and indiscretion. In the process, America lost a significant part of its identity. As Benjamin Franklin once suggested, those who would give up liberty to gain safety will lose both and deserve neither. Today, there is little debate that the “Land of the Free” has given up much of its liberty.

Most regrettable is the fact that we might have come away from this great tragedy a stronger nation, but instead the power of fear was evoked . . . and sadly — it worked. As a result, we learned the wrong lesson. American citizens sat in silent acceptance while fictitious evidence of WMDs was fabricated to justify an imperialistic invasion of Iraq. We collectively bowed as our civil liberties were torn asunder by the Patriot Act. Even today, while demanding spending cuts that place hardship on working Americans, politicians on the right vehemently defend a bloated defense budget that’s more than doubled since that fateful day in 2001. Fear of terrorists, fear of further economic collapse, fear of government overreach, fear of the “other,” the politics of fear are effective and their use accepted by far too many Americans.

In no way do I want to diminish the significance of what happened on 9/11 or to ignore the horror of violent terrorism. But I am compelled to suggest that the politics of fear will bring far more devastation than any overt terrorist plot. As I’ve written in other posts, America is in dire fiscal straits; we are threatened on many fronts, but instead of working with the current administration, the Republican Party has veered so far to the right that it has lost any semblance of legitimacy. They are guilty as charged of being the “Party of No,” the party that will sacrifice the economy and the wellbeing of the American people in order to regain power. Their politics of greed inflict severe harm upon our nation, but of much more serious consequence is the fact that they’ve become the Party of Fear.

Once the upholders of legitimate conservative views, the Republican Party has been taken over by self-serving opportunists who don’t so much as blush when they twist the most flimsy shred of truth into patently false assertions, accusations, and indictments. For them, the truth matters no longer; the SOP for the GOP has become: saying whatever it takes to instill fear into their loyal conservative following. They prey on hard working Americans, fill their heads with nonsense designed to elicit a fearful response, and thus gain their misinformed support.

It doesn’t seem to matter to these individuals that their lies and distortions are destroying our country, that the hate they work to spur clouds the issues and prevents the dialog needed for resolution. Did Michele Bachmann really not understand the destructive  impact of suggesting that the Democrats were moving toward “mandatory service” for America’s youth, where they would be forced into political “re-education camps?” Who did Sarah Palin serve when she insisted upon the validity of her claim that the health care legislation would bring “death panels” — that it was “evil?” When House Republican Leader, John Boehner’s claimed that the health care bill would bring “Armageddon” and “ruin our country,” was he just trying to make a substantive point? Was it just an honest mistake when Senator John Kyl stood and lied about Planned Parenthood, stating that abortion was “well over 90%” of what they do?

Is there any moral justification for spreading Islamofobia, for shouting “government takeover” at any attempt to contain rampant corporate profiteering, for targeting public employees as the enemies of those with “real jobs?” When all efforts to close corporate tax loopholes, raise federal revenue, or enforce regulations that protect people and preserve the planet are labeled “job-killing,” the politics of fear are at work. Is any of this hyperbole appropriate?  Is fear mongering really an acceptable form of intelligent exchange?

Make no mistake about it, regardless of your philosophical goals, when fear is your primary tactical method for achieving your short term objectives — you are a terrorist. The current cast of Republican politicians has cast their lot; from the falsehoods offered in opposition to healthcare and banking reform to their lies and distortions regarding the Stimulus, from their refusal to support anything that will help create jobs to their overt hostage taking on the extension of the Bush tax cuts and the raising of the debt ceiling . . . they’ve chosen their tactics and must now wear the mantle associated with their actions — they are political terrorists.

While the GOP form of terrorism may appear more sanitary than the bloody world of suicide bombers, it is actually far more dangerous. Their methods are destructive, their process deceptive, and their results are insidious. Republicans have driven a wedge into the American populace. They’ve used fear as a vehicle to divide the people and advance their agenda to dismantle government and destroy any hopes that our democracy might once again control the excesses of our capitalism. They’ve become truly adept at scaring Americans into believing that there must be winners and losers — that we’re not all in this together — and as a result, they’ve persuaded half of the population to fight against its own best interest.

When we were threatened by Islamic terrorists, calls went up from liberals and conservatives alike asking where Muslin moderates were, why they had not spoken up to decry the radical rants of their religion’s extremists. Today I wait to hear those voices of moderation rise amongst American conservatives. When will they speak up and demand that their party cease the inflammatory politics of fear, return to the table, and once again engage in meaningful conversation. If those voices remain silent, then although we survived the 9/11 terrorist attack, we may not survive the political terrorism of the Republican right, and we will have “let the terrorists win.”

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