Thursday, February 12, 2009

Corporations Strike Again: Jailing Children in the Name of Big Business

My readers may have been noting an angrier tone in some of my writing since this new year began. One would think that would not be the case. During the election, with so much Republican propaganda to complain about, I tried to focus on issue-oriented writing. With President Obama in office, I should be happy and writing celebratory paens to the stimulus package, the Hilda Solis appointment, the end of the global gag rule, Leon Panetta's CIA appointment, and so on, should I not?

Trust me. Part of me wants to. Yet plenty of people are writing about the pros and cons of President Obama's actions, whether to praise or damn. I find my focus moving to other things, not necessarily things people are not writing about, but certainly things people are not writing about in quite the frame I see them.

The biggest economic problem in the United States is our erroneous belief that our economic system is free market capitalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. A free market is a market free from manipulation or interference. Conservatives believe that because a government does not interfere, a market is automatically free, because in the mind of a conservative it is government power that most threatens freedom. This is simply not true. We have a Constitution and the powers of the government are constrained and limited by it. Corporations, on the other hand, can only be constrained by the government. Our government, for nearly thirty years (Presidents Carter and Clinton are not immune from blame, though Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush are the guiltiest perpetrators) we have been removing the constraints government has been placing on business since Teddy Roosevelt.

As a result, our press is no longer free because it is controlled by corporate advertising dollars. Our elections are no longer free because the right of corporations to donate money is considered equal to an individual's right of free speech. Our rights of free speech are restricted because 'at will' employment laws means that your employer has the right to fire you if he doesn't like something you said on your day off, off company property or wrote on the internet. Our markets are not free because corporations use mergers and buyouts to form monopolies and our anti-trust laws go unenforced, and because a wealthy and powerful corporation has the ability to drive an entrepreneur providing better products ot services out of the market with sheer money, regardless of the 'market forces' conservatives worship.

As it turns out, according to the Associated Press, our courts are no longer free either.

Two judges in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania are scheduled to plead guilty to fraud charges in federal court today. I assume that this plea and shockingly lenient sentence (seven years) is in exchange for full disclosure of their relationships with PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care LLC and testimony against the officers of same. However, unless these plea bargains lead to convictions on RICO charges (among other things) for the officers of the companies in question, I'm not sure letting the judges off the hook is worth it. Our court system has a shockingly poor record of properly dealing with corporate criminals. I'd hate to see the judges get off with seven years and the corporations in question get off with a fine.

My anger, however, is getting in the way of sharing the particulars of the crime in question. I apologize.

The two judges admit to taking more than two and a half million dollars in payoffs to send kids to prison.

No, you didn't read that wrong.

Despite their innocuous sounding names, you see, PA Child Care LLC and Western PA Child Care LLC are not merely a new corporate owned chain of day care centers. They were formed to contract with the state of Pennsylvania to run juvenile detention facilities. The privatizing of penal institutions is a neoconservative weed that has been floating around since the 1990s, and it has successfully taken root in some gardens; including Pennsylvania. Allegedly, it is cheaper and more efficient for a private corporation to run a prison and bill the government than it is for the government to run a prison. There is no actual economic or accounting logic to support this theory, it is based entirely in the neoconservative meme that 'government cannot do anything but redistribute wealth.' The problem of how a corporation can make a profit taking money from the state to run a prison if the state is paying the corporation less than it was paying for the prison itself is never addressed, because the idea is ludicrous. The only way the corporation can make a profit is to cut costs (usually leading to civil rights abuses for the inmates, but who care about convicted felons anyway?) and overcharge the state. It is another method of using the government to rip off the taxpayers that neoconservatives love, file it way with the reconstruction of Iraq and New Orleans and prescription drug benefits.

So why bribe judges to send kids to prison? Well, the bills such companies submit to the governments that pay them are based on their number of inmates. The more inmates they have, the more money they can bilk from the government for doing a job that the government can and should be doing itself. Apparently, through the normal carriage of justice in Pennsylvania, they were not getting enough juvenile offenders to make the kind of money they wished to make.

Still, the solution was easy: bribe judges to lock up kids who normally wouldn't go to prison.

The judges in question denied children legal representation, rushed hearings through the system to maximize the rate of incarcerations, and handed down excessive sentences for minor offenses by first time offenses. In some cases, they appear to have sentenced children to prison in cases where no real crime was actually committed. One girl was sentenced to three months for creating a MySpace page making fun of a school official. I understand schools have been given wide police powers over students, far beyond any reasonable need (a topic for another post), but three months in juvenile hall for something that should not even be a crime is ludicrous.

Don't just read this and forget it. Share it. Tell the story to your friends, send it to your congressman. This is the sort of thing we're talking about when we talk about 'privatization' and 'deregulation': a license for corporations to abuse the system to make a profit.

In my view, the two corporations in question are guilty of the kind of criminal activity for which the RICO laws were written. This was an organized criminal conspiracy to commit fraud against the government, bolstered by corruption of government officials. I want to know why federal prosecutors don't use RICO against corrupt corporations like they would against any other criminal organization? An organized criminal conspiracy that suborns corruption is a threat to the American people and the American Constitution.

When you read conservative opinion, keep this in mind. This is the ultimate result of the kind of completely privatized corporate economy that conservatives want. Consider that the next time some angry internet comment or Fox News rant warns us of creeping socialism.

We live in an age where corporate commercialism has killed free market capitalism and dressed itself up in the victim's skin to prey on the American people.

Is socialism really something we should be afraid of, considering what its alternative has brought us?


Unknown said...

Thanks for the read. Truly frightening that the far right has found success in chipping away at the definitions of "free market" and "capitalism" to such an extent they now mean greed run amok sans regulation and very much not sans steroids.

The Eclectic Geek said...

Quite welcome, and I'm glad you see where I'm coming from. I don't know if I hate all corporations as much as my writing must sometimes make it appear, but the general corporate and political culture of piracy that we face today makes me want to gnash my teeth.

The worst part is that the original, historical 'buccaneers' had the good taste to attack their nations' enemies, while our modern pirates prey on their own people.