CCA to Idaho: We’re Blowing This Popsicle Stand

CCAPatchThe Associated Press reports that Nashville-based corporate prison behemoth Corrections Corporation of America is pulling out of Idaho after what the AP story calls “more than a decade marked by scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state’s largest prison.”

A company executive informed the Idaho Department of Corrections in a letter that CCA will not bother to bid on a new contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center located just south of Boise. CCA’s Idaho operation has been plagued by inmate lawsuits alleging that understaffing and all-around bad management have led to violent conditions. Although a settlement was reach in 2011, CCA’s legal troubles in Idaho took a new turn earlier this year when the firm fessed up to falsifying staffing records at the prison, acts that caused Idaho’s taxpayers to pay the company for thousands of hours of time for staff positions that were actually vacant.

The latest bad news for the company — and perhaps the final straw for its Idaho operation — came in mid-September when a federal judge found CCA in contempt for the chronic understaffing problems at the facility. The ruling (pdf) by District Judge David O. Carter reads like quite the CCA smackdown, with the court noting “extensive and ongoing violations of the Settlement Agreement”:

For CCA staff to lie on so basic a point—whether an officer is actually at a post—leaves the Court with serious concerns about compliance in other respects, such as whether every violent incident is reported.

In the letter informing Idaho corrections of the company’s decision not to rebid, CCA Vice President Brad Regens wrote that “we have delivered exceptional value to Idaho’s taxpayers through cost savings, and we’ve also provided outstanding rehabilitation programming to the inmates entrusted in our care.” I guess Regens thought it best not to mention that the Idaho prison they managed came to be known as “gladiator school” on account of the rampant violence there.

CCA is the nation’s largest private prison operator (“a full-service corrections management provider” offering “future-focused, forward-thinking correctional solutions” is how they describe themselves), running more than 60 facilities in 20 states. Make that 19.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

In Stylish Colors for Boys and Girls

Backpacks too!

Backpacks too!

Now that our supposedly moderate senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have so plainly shown their unbridled worship of the firearms lobby, we have to leave it to the Brits to take notice of just how warped U.S. gun culture has become. And so it is that The Guardian reports today on the latest fad in U.S. education: bulletproof school uniforms! Genius!

Actually we’re not likely to see mandatory bulletproof school uniforms anytime soon because it turns out they are a wee bit on the pricey side. But it is lovely to know that if you’ve got a thousand dollars to spare you can buy junior a kids ballistic puffer vest, which not only provides NIJ Level II ballistic protection (whatever the hell that means), but also comes in six “stylish colors for boys and girls” including fuchsia! There’s also a kids ballistic t-shirt for a cool $755 (white only, alas).

The head of the company that makes and sells this stuff, one AJ Zabadne, is quoted in the Guardian story describing his products as nothing more than a routine precaution: “It’s like you find life jackets on ships or planes in case they go down. It’s no different to having a seatbelt in a car.”

Yes, quite right, small children wearing thousand-dollar body armor garments to elementary school … the moral equivalent of a seat belt. Good lord.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Atlas Vounteers a Shrug

??????How’s this for buzz(kill) in the national press?

If you’re worried about where America is heading, look no further than Tennessee. Its lush mountains and verdant rolling countryside belie a mean-spirited public policy that only makes sense if you believe deeply in the anti-collectivist, anti-altruist philosophy of Ayn Rand. It’s what you get when you combine hatred for government with disgust for poor people.

That’s the lede of a piece by Les Leopold at Alternet (and picked up by Salon) titled “The Southern State Fast Becoming Ayn Rand’s Vision of Paradise.” Leopold runs the numbers:

Tennessee starves what little government it has, ranking dead last in per capita tax revenue. To fund its minimalist public sector, it makes sure that low-income residents pay as much as possible through heavily regressive sales taxes, which rank 10th highest among all states as a percent of total tax revenues….As you would expect, this translates into hard times for its public school systems, which rank 48th in school revenues per student and 45th in teacher salaries. The failure to invest in education also corresponds with poverty: the state has the 40th worst poverty rate (15%) and the 13th highest state percentage of poor children (26%). Employment opportunities also are extremely poor for the poor. Only 25% have full-time jobs, 45% are employed part-time, and a whopping 30% have no jobs at all.

Pointing to legislation making welfare contingent on school attendance and performance and other reactionary measures all too familiar to Pith readers, Leopold spins a Randian explantion: those running our state believe that public policy should reward “creators” for their ingenuity and general fabulousness, and lay the blame where it belongs — on the poor and “the collectivist government liberals who cater to them.”

Leopold’s larger argument is about the overall approach to poverty adopted by movement conservatives across the country, with Tennessee offered up as a bleeding edge example. It’s nice to lead in something I suppose.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Feeling Better About Tennessee’s Unhinged State GOP

borgIt’s pretty depressing this time of year looking in on the Tennessee legislature’s weekly wing-nut chronicle — those persistent reminders of just how far our GOP-led state can stray from sanity. Fortunately, for those of us dispirited by the right-wing mayhem that sucks all the rational air out of the room in Tennessee, scientific psychology offers an easy remedy: social comparison theory. In simple terms, we can shore up our self-worth by comparing ourselves with others. The good news is it turns out Tennessee lacks a monopoly on unhinged conservatism. So let’s take a quick look and feel better about ourselves.

Exhibit A: Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema, who put up on his Facebook page a post that (as quoted in the Detroit Free Press) “depicts gays as sexually promiscuous, rife with sexually transmitted diseases and responsible for ‘half the murders in large cities.’ ” Asked to clarify his views on homosexuality, Agema told a Slate writer that “this is not about hate but a lifestyle that is against 230 years of American history and filled with medical, psychological, legal and costs reasons to oppose it.” See? We aren’t the only state with GOP crazy-bigot juice in the water supply. On the other hand, a group of more than 20 Republicans in Michigan did sign a statement calling Agema’s actions “deplorable” and calling for his resignation, so apparently theirs is a tad more dilute.

Exhibit B: In Idaho, a public school science teacher finds himself under fire for using the word “vagina” during a biology class on human reproduction. You probably don’t need me to point out that the school is located in an area that has the state’s highest teen pregnancy rate.

Exhibit C: And then there is Ben Carson, the Maryland-based celebrity right-wing pediatric neurosurgeon who has been getting conservative buzz as a possible 2016 presidential hopeful. Turns out that in a recent appearance on Fox News the good doctor likened support for marriage equality to pedophilia and bestiality: “Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”

There … now don’t we all you feel better?

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

On the Economic Advantages of Pointless Legislation

ATFDudeA piece in today’s New York Times looks at efforts by state lawmakers to make it a state crime for federal agents to enforce new gun regulations. This gun-control-nullification trendlet, according to the Times, is “sweeping through statehouses from South Carolina to North Dakota.”

Tennessee, naturally, was in this game quickly. State Rep. Joe Carr of Rutherford County last month filed a bill making it a Class A misdemeanor for a federal agent to enforce any new federal regulation that restricts ownership of a semi-automatic firearm or ammunition, or requires any firearm to be registered in any manner.

And you know what? I’m for it! Oh, sure, it is of course an inane and patently unconstitutional bill that flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution’s Article VI Supremacy Clause. Granted, Tenth Amendment cultists do try to make a tortured case for its legality built on a contention that the Supremacy Clause applies only to things the federal government does that are constitutional. Since gun regulations lack constitutional validity, the thinking goes, then naturally those new federal gun laws aren’t supreme, and so the state can act to bar federal enforcement. Even Scalia’s dog won’t hunt that turkey of an argument.

But I’m for HB 42 (the Senate companion bill is SB 100) because of all the good it will do right up until the time it meets its inevitable (un)constitutional demise. First of all, just the act of litigating the constitutional issue will keep any number of lawyers, paralegals, and administrative assistants busy for months, and there sure are a lot of lawyers who need work. Also, the measure empowers the state attorney general to defend any Tennessee citizen who is prosecuted for firearms violations under new federal laws, which means more work for underemployed attorneys and better legal representation for criminal defendants. It turns out HB 42 isn’t a gun bill or a nullification bill; it’s a jobs bill!

The one question I have is why Tennessee’s gun-happy GOP lawmakers are being so timid. According to the Times story, a bill accomplishing essentially the same thing in Wyoming would allow that state to charge a federal agent with a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Apparently we’re going soft on hallucinatory crime.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Vote for Romney … Or You’re Fired!

The Queen of Versailles is a grimly hilarious (or hilariously grim) documentary about timeshare magnate David Siegel and spousal unit Jackie, and their ill-fated effort to build the biggest house in America, a 90,000-square-foot monstrosity inspired by, yes, Versailles. Good flick. David Siegel is back in the news this week with an email to his hordes of employees telling them that they can expect to be canned if Barack Obama is re-elected. Excerpts from Siegel’s missive:

There is no question that the economy has changed for the worse and we have not seen any improvement over the past four years. In spite of all of the challenges we have faced, the good news is this: The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration….

Unfortunately, the costs of running a business have gotten out of control, and let me tell you why: We are being taxed to death and the government thinks we don’t pay enough. We pay state taxes, federal taxes, property taxes, sales and use taxes, payroll taxes, workers compensation taxes and unemployment taxes. I even have to hire an entire department to manage all these taxes. The question I have is this: Who is really stimulating the economy? Is it the Government that wants to take money from those who have earned it and give it to those who have not, or is it people like me who built a company out of his garage and directly employs over 7000 people and hosts over 3 million people per year with a great vacation?….

If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company. Rather than grow this company I will be forced to cut back. This means fewer jobs, less benefits and certainly less opportunity for everyone. So, when you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn’t? Whose policies will endanger your job?

Read the entire email here. Siegel has every right to tell his employees whatever he wants about his political views or his sex life or his bowel movements. Hey, it’s a free country … especially when you own the email system.

But this notion that Barack Obama, a middle-of-the-road neo-liberal who sucks with vigor at the campaign finance teat of Wall Street and venture capital, and who wants to cut business taxes just like the Mittster, is some sort of enemy of the profiteering capitalist class is simply delusional. Yes, Mr. Siegel, Obama would, given his policy druthers, raise your marginal tax rate by a few percentage points. America’s heart bleeds for the devastating hardships this will bestow upon you and your empire.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

Chick-fil-A “Appreciation” Day

Fans of the marriage of capitalism and bigotry should keep their Wednesday lunch plans flexible, because tomorrow is Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Mike Huckabee conjured up the day as a celebration of all that is fabulous about a corporation he thinks is “being smeared by vicious hate speech” on the left:

The goal is simple: Let’s affirm a business that operates on Christian principles and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse by simply showing up and eating at Chick Fil-A on Wednesday, August 1. Too often, those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant.

I’m hard to know where he finds “those on the left” making “corporate statements” supporting abortion and profanity (“Fifteen minutes will save you fifteen percent on car insurance, and while you’re at it go terminate your fucking pregancy”?), but let’s overlook that for now. With just one shopping day left until C-f-A-AD, we need to answer some of the big questions people have about l’affaire d’chicken.

Does Chick-fil-A hate gay people?

The firm’s defenders would have you believe that the company doesn’t hate gay people; it just hates same-sex marriage. The current controversy was sparked by company president Dan Cathy’s observation a few weeks ago that “we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ … We are very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit.” The company’s conservative friends contend that “Chick-Fil-A has not turned away a single customer because that customer was a homosexual … [and] has not discriminated in any way against either employees or customers.”

But as groups such as the Equality Matters project have amply documented, Chick-fil-A through its charitable arm the Winshape Foundation donates millions to stridently anti-LGBT causes and organizations. We’re not talking just entities that mount legal challenges to same-sex marriage; these are groups that condemn “any homosexual act” (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), that regard being LGBT as “perverse” and promote “ex-gay therapy” (Exodus International), that frame pedophilia as a “homosexual problem” (Family Research Council), and that characterize the homosexual agenda as “a principal threat to religious freedom” (Alliance Defense Fund).

Chick-fil-A executives may say they are committed to treating people with “honor, dignity and respect … regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender,” but actions speak louder than words. Through its foundation arm, the company finances hate, simple as that.

What about these reports of mayors and other elected officials threatening to block Chick-fil-A from expanding in their cities? Can they do that?

Certainly not. Voices on both the left and the right have been quick to denounce those threats, to the extent that they were actually threats to use instruments of public policy, as unsavory and absurdly impulsive assaults on the First Amendment. Even LGBT advocates get this. (An exception, a somewhat game but ultimately lame effort on the left to defend the mayors’ actions, is here, effectively refuted here.) But let’s be clear that even if public officials shouldn’t be threatening to make it harder for a business to do business because of political or religious viewpoints, those officials certainly do have the right to use their bully pulpits to express a personal opinion that they find the practices of a corporation offensive. Some have had to walk back their comments because in the scrum of the issue’s national momentum, they didn’t quite grasp the difference.

What about those on the right who locate just a wee bit of hypocrisy in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s obstreperous objection to Chick-fil-A’s stance on marriage, given that it is the same position held by Barack Obama while Emanuel served as White House chief of staff, and held by Bill Clinton while Emanuel served in that administration? Do they have a point?

They do indeed.

So bottom line: should you eat at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday?

If you agree with Mike Huckabee that Chick-fil-A, a firm using its profits via foundation contributions to promote intolerant bigotry, is somehow being victimized by “intolerant bigotry from the left” when those contributions are factually revealed and discussed, then sure, knock yourself out. Otherwise I’d say give it a miss.

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.