exploitation and manipulation

Greedy Lying Bastards

Greedy Lying Bastards

Documentary Hits Fossil Fuel Industry-Funded Climate Change Deniers

Greedy Lying Bastards

Greedy Lying Bastards is as timely a movie as you will ever see. The global warming documentary — directed, produced and narrated by Craig Rosebraugh — pulls no punches in a damning indictment of the fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers who have successfully deceived the public and prevented climate change action in Congress at a time when Americans are feeling the damaging effects of a changing climate — from Hurricane Sandy to western wildfires to devastating droughts.

A look at recent headlines proves why this film is so important:

– The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new clean fuel regulations that would require refineries to make gasoline with less sulfur to reduce polluting tailpipe emissions. The EPA’s move to toughen fuel standards predictably drew attacks from Big Oil’s lobbying arm, the American Petroleum Institute, and Republicans such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who in 2011 received large campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, including a PAC representing ExxonMobil.

– Tea Party senator and climate change denier Ted Cruz (R-TX) removed a mention of climate change from a routine resolution commemorating International Women’s Day. Cruz cut the part that said women “are disproportionately affected by changes in climate because of their need to secure water, food and fuel for their livelihood.”

– And perhaps the most infamous climate change denier in Congress, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), recently said he was proud to be targeted by Greedy Lying Bastards. Inhofe, who has repeatedly called global warming a hoax, said, “I was not surprised to see myself front and center on the promotional material for this climate change movie, and quite frankly, I’m proud of it.”

The film exposes the front groups the fossil fuel industry uses to attack the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, making the comparison to the tactics used by the tobacco industry to attack the scientific findings linking smoking to cancer.

ExxonMobil and Koch Industries are exposed in the film as the two worst culprits in funding misinformation campaigns to delay action on climate change and confuse the public.

Rosebraugh made the film because he is “concerned about the future of the planet and our ability to exist on it. I wanted to undertake a project that would uncover the hidden agenda of the oil industry and provide answers as to why as a nation we fail to implement clean energy policies and take effective action on important problems such as climate change.”

Click here to watch the trailer.
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This article is written by Josh Mark and is published at http://www.nationalmemo.com/documentary-hits-fossil-fuel-industry-funded-climate-change-deniers/

the national memo

Judge finds for banks, dismisses most claims in LIBOR lawsuits

Judge finds for banks, dismisses most claims in LIBOR lawsuits

A judge on Friday dismissed a “substantial portion” of claims facing a number of banks in a barrage of lawsuits accusing them of interest-rate rigging.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled for the banks, which include Bank of America Corp (BAC.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and others, of allegedly manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate, commonly known as Libor.

The judge granted the banks’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ federal antitrust claims and partially dismissed their claims of commodities manipulation. She also dismissed racketeering and state-law claims.

The decision is a significant setback for private plaintiffs, whose lawsuits had been consolidated before the New York judge as part of a multidistrict litigation proceeding.

In a 161-page opinion, Buchwald said she recognized her ruling might be “unexpected,” since several defendants had paid billions of dollars in penalties to government regulatory agencies.

But she said unlike government agencies, private plaintiffs needed to meet many requirements under the statutes to bring a case.

“Therefore, although we are fully cognizant of the settlements that several of the defendants here have entered into with government regulators, we find that only some of the claims that plaintiffs have asserted may properly proceed,” she wrote.

The lead lawyers for the plaintiffs, Bill Carmody of Susman Godfrey and Michael Hausfeld of Hausfeld LLP, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

More than a dozen banks and brokerages are under investigation by regulators worldwide for manipulating benchmark rates such as Libor, which have been the basis for more than $550 trillion in financial products.

Three banks have reached settlements with authorities to date. Most recently, Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC (RBS.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) agreed to pay $612 million to U.S. and British authorities. UBS AG (UBSN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) agreed in December to pay $1.5 billion. Barclays (BARC.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) agreed to pay $453 million in June.

Other defendants facing private lawsuits included Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.VX: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), HSBC Holdings PLC (HSBA.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Royal Bank of Scotland, WestLB AG, and Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), among others.

Representatives for the various banks either did not immediately respond to LIBOR Scandal requests for comment or had no immediate comment.

The cases are In Re: Libor-Based Financial Instruments Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-md-2262.

(picture added by editor.)
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This article was written by Nate Raymond in New York, additional reporting by Luciana Lopez; editing by Leslie Gevirtz, G Crosse).  It is available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/29/us-libor-lawsuits-banks-idUSBRE92S0HE20130329?feedType=RSS&feedName=businessNews

Reuters

The ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

The ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

5 Terrifying Things To Know About The HR 933 Provision

The “Monsanto Protection Act” is the name opponents of the Farmer Assurance Provision have given to this terrifying piece of policy, and it’s a fitting moniker given its shocking content.

sprouting Monsanto seeds
REUTERS
A maize seedling is seen in the corn greenhouse at the Monsanto Research facility in Chesterfield, Missouri October 9, 2009.

President Barack Obama signed a spending billHR 933, into law on Tuesday that includes language that has food and consumer advocates and organic farmers up in arms over their contention that the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” is a giveaway to corporations that was passed under the cover of darkness.

There’s a lot being said about it, but here are five terrifying facts about the Farmer Assurance Provision — Section 735 of the spending bill — to get you acquainted with the reasons behind the ongoing uproar:

1.) The “Monsanto Protection Act” effectively bars federal courts from being things to know about the MOnsanto Protection Actable to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future. The advent of genetically modified seeds — which has been driven by the massive Monsanto Company — and their exploding use in farms across America came on fast and has proved a huge boon for Monsanto’s profits.

But many anti-GMO folks argue there have not been enough studies into the potential health risks of this new class of crop. Well, now it appears that even if those studies are completed and they end up revealing severe adverse health effects related to the consumption of genetically modified foods, the courts will have no ability to stop the spread of the seeds and the crops they bear.

2.) The provision’s language was apparently written in collusion with Monsanto. Lawmakers and companies working together to craft legislation is by no means a rare occurrence in this day and age. But the fact that Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, actually worked with Monsanto on a provision that in effect allows them to keep selling seeds, which can then go on to be planted, even if it is found to be harmful to consumers, is stunning. It’s just another example of corporations bending Congress to their will, and it’s one that could have dire risks for public health in America.

3.) Many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the “Monsanto Protection Act” even existed within the bill they were voting on. HR 933 was a spending bill aimed at averting a government shutdown and ensuring that the federal government would continue to be able to pay its bills. But the Center for Food Safety maintains that many Democrats in Congress were not even aware that the provision was in the legislation:

“In this hidden backroom deal, Sen. [Barbara] Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “This abuse of power is not the kind of leadership the public has come to expect from Sen. Mikulski or the Democrat Majority in the Senate.”

4.) The President did nothing to stop it, either. On Tuesday, Obama signed HR 933 while the rest of the nation was fixated on gay marriage, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument concerning California’s Proposition 8. But just because most of the nation and the media were paying attention to gay marriage doesn’t mean that others were not doing their best to express their opposition to the “Monsanto Protection Act.” In fact, more than 250,000 voters signed a petition opposing the provision. And Food Democracy Now protesters even took their fight straight to Obama, protesting in front of the White House against Section 735 of the bill. He signed it anyway.

5.) It sets a terrible precedent. Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.

“I think any time you tweak with the ability of the public to seek redress from the courts, you create a huge risk,” Seattle attorney Bill Marler — who has represented victims of foodborne illness in successful lawsuits against corporations — told the New York Daily News.

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This article is written by and was originally posted at http://www.ibtimes.com/monsanto-protection-act-5-terrifying-things-know-about-hr-933-provision-1156079
International Business Times

Lancashire fracking delayed until 2014

Lancashire fracking delayed until 2014

So, who among the environmentalists out there knew that Fracking is also a big issue in England?  The conservative movement (Tories as they are called in English politics), led by ALEC members in England, is pushing hydraulic fracturing as a cure-all to their energy woes.  The Fossil fuel industry–Big Oil–is quite active trying to avoid the development of renewable, green energy just as they are here in the U.S.

ALEC International

Lancashire fracking delayed until 2014

(Editor’s note:  sorry, but I could not get this out of my head so I’m sharing these lyrics with you:

I heard the news today oh boy
four thousand holes in Blackburn Lancashire
and though the holes were rather small
they had to count them all
now they know how many holes it takes
to fill the Albert Hall
)

Cuadrilla fracking sites in Lancashire

Cuadrilla has sites in St Annes and Banks in Lancashire’s Bowland basin

The shale gas company Cuadrilla has delayed its plans to carry out fracking in Lancashire until 2014.

It is to carry out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) at its existing and planned new sites where drilling and hydraulic fracturing will take place.

It said explorations have already found the 1200 sq km licence area holds at least 200 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Chief Executive Francis Egan said the assessments could be “lengthy” but should be finished by next year.

He said Cuadrilla’s explorations in Lancashire’s Bowland basin suggested gas with a market value of £136bn was present.

It is now looking for planning consent for drilling, hydraulic fracturing and flow testing to take place.

‘Socially sustainable’

The firm has applied to Lancashire County Council to frack for shale gas at its Anna’s Road site in St Annes and Banks, near Southport.

Fracking is a technique where water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas.

Opponents are particularly concerned about the contamination of waste or flowback water once it has been used in the fracking process.

Fracking was temporarily banned in the UK after it was blamed for two earth tremors in Blackpool in 2011.

A government review has now concluded that fracking is safe if adequately monitored.

Mr Egan said: “We recognise that within the complex UK regulatory framework governing planning this process can prove lengthy but we are determined to spare no effort in meeting our exploration targets in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner.”

He said Cuadrilla is also planning more temporary exploration sites during 2013 and 2014 to assess gas flow rates.

These plans would be discussed with local communities, he said.

Friends of the Earth’s North West campaigner Helen Rimmer said: “Cuadrilla’s decision to delay fracking in Fylde is great news for local people, but other Lancashire communities are still at risk.

“The government must switch from potentially harmful shale gas to a power system based on clean British energy and slashing waste.”

 

Related Stories:

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This article is written by BBC News, and can be seen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-21769805

BBC news

Casinos & Prison Labor – Strange Bedfellows

Casinos & Prison Labor – Strange Bedfellows

By Bob Sloan

On Tuesday March 19th, the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners (BPC) met in Carson City to discuss an assortment of prison related issues.  Members of the BPC are: Governor Brian Sandoval, Attorney General, Catherine Cortez-Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller.

Issues of: (a) realignment of state Parole and Probation responsibilities with the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC; (b) compliance with the federal Rape Elimination Act; (c) certifying the Nevada State Prison as a Historical Site was on the agenda.  However, the topic which generated the most heated public discussion was listed on the agenda was: (d) a review of the prison industries program run by the NDOC.

As I’ve reported over the past two or three months, there has been an increasing amount of criticism of NDOC Director Greg Cox and Deputy Director Brian Connett over the operation of the state’s prison industry program.  This program operates under the name “Silver State Industries” and employs hundreds of inmates in various industrial programs.  Many of those prison workers are actually “employed “by private corporations and companies.

The need for discussion of prison industries during this meeting of the BPC came about due to a total lack of transparency surrounding the program.  The NDOC is reluctant to pull the veil of secrecy from prison industry operations that has hidden it from public and legislative view for years.  This was demonstrated in the meeting on the 19th by Secretary of State Miller when he was forced once again to request a list of industries being run by SSI.  AG Masto made the same request at the previous meeting in December and was assured by Deputy Director Connett that one would be provided at the following meeting.  At this time, no such list has been provided to the BPC by Cox or Connett.

Additionally, for more than two years SSI successfully hid from the BPC and Legislature the fact that Alpine Steel was not paying inmate and staff wages, lease payments, utilities or workers compensation payments owed to the state.  The NDOC also hid their lack of compliance with state statutes requiring notification to private businesses and labor before initiating new industries and took that one step further, by not even apprising the BPC in 2006 of the Alpine contract and creation of the steel fabrication industry.

SSI is operating at least half a dozen industries under the federal PIE Program – yet the Interim Finance Committee on Prison Industrial Programs was never made aware of the mandatory requirements of that program – or that those requirements also called for consulting private businesses and union officials.  They have not paid the inmate workers in the program comparable wages as mandated and have kept that secret from both the BPC and the Committee.

On March 8th the Agenda for the NDOC Budget hearing before the Ways and Means Committee listed several of the prison industries the NDOC claim were operating – but at least one of those was closed back in 2011.  So those excluded by this blanket of secrecy surrounding SSI operations includes the Nevada Assembly.  Unbelievably the one industry that has been closed for nearly two years is still being presented to the BPC as viable and operating and was mentioned as a positive in last week’s discussion.

The need for a review by the BPC in the first place was necessitated by this ongoing secrecy and lack of transparency exhibited by the NDOC, the Director and Deputy Director of Prison Industries.  It was this that caused several Nevada companies to complain the prison industry operation was being used to drive down wages in the private sector, reduce the number of available jobs for unemployed workers and argue prison based companies are competing unfairly against others in the marketplace.

At first it was a handful of steel fabrication companies that complained prison-based companies are competing unfairly against others in the marketplace by using – illegally underpaid – inmate labor to underbid on contracts.  But by the day of the meeting, another business owner named BIllow in an entirely different industry was identified as having notified the Governor and the NDOC for more than two years that his embroidery business had been compromised due to direct competition from prison industries.  This complaint had no impact upon that competition that continues to harm that man’s business in the private sector.

Responding on behalf of those complaining, former Senator Richard Bryan (D NV) proposed to the BPC that Nevada adopt the federal Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program’s (PIE Program) mandatory requirements as prison industry regulations.  The PIE regulations require prison industries to contact and consult with labor groups, unions and private businesses to determine if there will be a negative impact upon sales, displacement of workers or jobs lost prior to commencing any new product line or industry.  They also require inmate wages set at the same rate as those performing identical jobs on the outside.

The state takes back most of the inmate’s earnings to offset the costs of incarceration, healthcare, feeding and clothing of inmates and for victim restitution and to repay fines or fees owed by the prisoner.  Senator Bryan’s proposed solution is simple and easily adopted since Nevada currently holds a PIECP Certificate issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and has six industries participating in the PIE Program.  These SSI industries already have to abide by the mandatory requirements in more than 50% of their operations. Making it applicable to remaining industry operations, would be easily accomplished and resolve the current issues.  This proposal had the support of many of those who spoke to the BPC last Tuesday on this and other issues. Prison industry operations nationwide have been increasingly scrutinized and widely reported.

Strangely, however, most labor groups and unions have remained silent about the impact – if any – upon their members or workers from competition with prison industries.  The meeting Tuesday broke that ongoing silence, with both the Nevada Executive Secretary Treasurer of the AFLCIO, Danny Thompson and Robbie Conway, Business Agent of Ironworkers Local 433 sitting down with the BPC and objecting to the ongoing competition from prison labor.  Others representing Nevada Law Enforcement, Parole and Probation workers and NDOC employees, also stated their support for the proposed adoption of PIE regulations.

To be fair, the one member of the Committee representing labor is Mr. Magnani of the Teamsters who is totally outnumbered by NDOC, legislative and business members.  His single voice and vote is constantly outweighed by the two members representing the NDOC (Director Cox and NDOC purchasing agent, Greg Smith) and seven more representing business and the legislature. Time and again the minutes reflect Magnani asked for materials, lists of industries in operation and on occasion voiced his opposition to suggested actions advanced by the NDOC (such as the current proposal for a recycling industry).  None of his requests resulted in Connett or the NDOC providing what he’d requested and his vote opposing actions proposed by the NDOC or SSI went against a majority of votes favoring the proposals.

Some members of the Committee would be absent for several meetings then return and cast a vote without any real understanding of what they were voting on – just that the proposals were favored by the NDOC.  So the suggestion presented by Connett last week to the BPC that the “advisory Committee” was a good representation for labor and businesses alike, was disingenuous and misleading at best.

Joining Union voices in opposition of making inmate labor available to private companies were a number of non-union businesses in a rare demonstration of solidarity.  Nearly a dozen union and non-union steel companies signed petitions to the BOPC objecting to the use of prison labor by Alpine Steel, Inc. as a means of underbidding them for steel construction projects in Nevada.  Alpine had been using inmate labor as a means of gaining an advantage over competitors since 2006.

The three petitions stated:

“Honorable Governor Sandoval, Attorney General Masto and Secretary of State Miller; We the undersigned owners of steel businesses in Nevada wish to voice our objection to competing against state subsidized prison industries in Southern Nevada.  Competing against prison labor reduces the number of jobs available in our industry and hampers our businesses from expanding.”

Signatories included; Southwest Steel, Tandem Industries, Vegas Steel, Inc., Southern Nevada Welding, A & N Custom Fabricators, XL Steel and Imperial Iron, Inc. The letter from Southwest Steel outlined the objection(s) best:

“Honorable Governor Sandoval, Attorney General Masto & Secretary of State Miller; As you all know too well, the construction industry in the Las Vegas valley is as competitive as it’s been in 20 years. With that being said, companies large and small have had to make radical changes; be it cutback of manpower, chase work in different markets or revisit our business model in its entirety, to maintain existence over the last 3 – 4 years has been a challenge. “As the Vice President of Operations for one of the larger steel companies in Nevada, I wish to voice our Company’s objection to competing against state subsidized prison industries in Southern Nevada. Competing against prison labor reduces the number of jobs available in our industry and hampers our businesses from expanding. Tom Morgan Vice President, Operations Southwest Steel”

The references to “state subsidized prison industries” come from the unpaid debt outlined above.  For several years Alpine was able to continue operations at the High Desert State Prison, working approximately fifty inmates for several years without paying any of the costs associated with keeping the industry operating. The state of Nevada has had to pay supervisory staff’s salaries, cover the utility costs of Alpine Steel and absorb the lost lease payments.  The total cost to Nevada’s Taxpayers? $438,000+ according to the forbearance agreement between the Attorney General’s office, NDOC and Alpine Steel:

forbearance excerpt

Only after complaints against Alpine Steel’s use of inmate labor was it discovered that the company had been operating basically without covering the costs of operations – which were ultimately passed on to Nevada taxpayers.   Silver State Industries had curiously authorized the steel fabricating prison industry to remain open and available to Alpine even as SSI was losing money throughout 2011 and 2012, essentially “doubling down” in the hope of recovering its losses.  Once the “debt” and gambling was made public, SSI was forced to close the steel fabrication industry and deny further inmate labor to Alpine.

The foregoing debt is to be paid off over another four year period, very surprisingly given the circumstances, without any interest going forward, unless Alpine defaults on monthly payments of $5,000.  An additional state tax lien was placed against Alpine Steel in January of this year for another $38,000 plus owed to the Nevada Department of Taxation.

The Alpine Steel story reveals that this company is responsible for the current problems and full media attention now focused upon Nevada’s prison industry program after the Associated Press, Bloomberg Business, Yahoo Finance and California media picked up this story and spread it as far as New Zealand and Australia.  The entire program and indeed, prisoner labor has now come under intense international scrutiny because of the complaints brought against Alpine Steel and the subsidization of its business using Nevadans’ tax dollars.

This has now resulted in the prison industry program being publicly brought to its knees while state regulations and statutes are under review for amendment because of the actions of Alpine Steel and the NDOC – which occurred without proper oversight.  With the steel fabrication industry shut down, Randy Bulloch has been transformed from a “partner” in the prison industrial program, to a “debtor” forced by the state to repay a huge sum owed to the NDOC.  He has not melted into obscurity with the stigma of having bilked taxpayers out of nearly half a million dollars, instead coming to every meeting involving prison industries and doing his best to fight on behalf of access to inmate labor.

Bulloch and Alpine are out of the prison industry program and business, yet surprisingly, Bulloch is now the “Poster Child” for prisoner labor.  He is now being used by the NDOC to argue on behalf of continuing the program!  Bulloch and NDOC Deputy Director Connett have been seen conferring and whispering before and after budget hearings and meetings – like co-defendants instead of partners in a failed business relationship – a weird sort of relationship with one owing the other nearly a half a million dollars and both continuing to work together.

Mr. Bulloch confided to me in an exclusive interview that he would once again use prisoners to fabricate his steel components…as long as he did not have to pay “comparable wages” to inmates, as was suggested by Senator Bryan’s proposal.  Yet there he was on Tuesday, arguing fiercely in support of the prison industry program, his lone voice supporting prison industries and opposing the views presented by unions, unemployed workers and private businesses.  One has to wonder – why?

Curiously, Director Cox and Deputy Director Connett assign no blame for their current circumstances to Bulloch or Alpine – perhaps that is why Bulloch continues to act as a spokesman on behalf of prison industries.  It will be interesting to see if Randy Bulloch continues his advocacy on behalf of prison labor in future meetings or hearings in the absence of any official business relationship with prison industries.

Nevada companies argue that aside from being forced to compete against already low wages paid to prisoners by Alpine Steel, they have had to pay proper taxes, utilities, leases and workers compensation…or be closed down by the state of Nevada.  This creates a situation whereby the State of Nevada is subsidizing an unfair advantage to Alpine. Now you can play online casino if you are from NJ, have a look at this casino site to view the licensed USA casino sites. This not only hampers any business expansion by free enterprise companies, it also reduces the number of jobs available to unemployed steel workers in Nevada.

Critics of the prison industry programs operated by SSI point to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee (the Committee) on Industrial Programs as failing in their duties of oversight.  They blame the committee for failing to protect businesses and workers against prison industry operations.

This committee is made up of Assembly members, Legislators, business owners or representatives and the one member representing labor (Mr. Magnani):

Members Assemblyman James Ohrenschall,

Chair Senator David R. Parks,

Vice Chair Senator Dean A. Rhoads

Assemblyman John Ellison

Bruce Aguilera, Las Vegas – (Vice President/General Counsel, Bellagio)

Michael Mackenzie, Las Vegas – (Principal, Operations Improvement Company)

Mike Magnani, Las Vegas – (Teamster/Union Representative)

Allen J. Puliz, Las Vegas – (Moving and Storage Co.)

James “Greg” Cox, Director, Department of Corrections

Greg Smith, Purchasing Division

Alternate Members

Debra Miller, Las Vegas

Scott Stolberg, Las Vegas

Richard Serlin, Las Vegas

While the arguments of a lack of protecting some businesses from unfair competition appear factual, other businesses represented on this Committee have profited handsomely from prison labor and industries.  In this undated article, NDOC Deputy Director, Howard Skolnik (who preceded Brian Connett) bragged about the prison industry, saying:

 “Skolnik explained, ‘I suspect that most people don’t know that anything they are using is made by inmates. More and more of it is. If you have been in many of our major properties you have seen a stained glass window, you have seen something that is manufactured in one of our institutions.’

Excalibur stained glass 2

They built all the original stained glass in the Excalibur; make casino mattresses, chairs for attorneys, and exclusive lines of clothing for airport retailers. They make award plaques, reupholster cars and rebuild water trucks for a local water company…”

Clothing - mattress pic

Those involved in the Casino industry in Nevada appear to have profited off of prison labor due to the manufacture of mattresses and custom stained glass products – as have clothing retailers selling to travelers and tourists passing through Nevada’s airports.

This “Committee” has been overseeing prison industries since the late 1980’s and every industry, product, contract with a private company and for determining the impact upon competing companies and workers, comes under their responsibility.  They had to approve the prison industry manufacture of the stained glass for the Excalibur and for the mattresses for casino/resorts…and the manufacture of clothing for sale to tourists.

Once the Committee makes their decision on new products or a new industry, that decision is supposed to then go to the Board of Prison Commissioners for final review and approval or denial.  In the recent case involving Alpine Steel, the BPC stated publicly that this was “an isolated incident when a contract was enacted without clearance from the prison board.”  Whether this was indeed an “isolated incident” or a practice of the Committee that became the standard over the years, is unknown.  Certainly the experience of Mr. Billow makes claims of Alpine Steel being an “isolated” incident difficult to swallow.

Throughout this story the elephant in the room remains the total lack of transparency and absence of independent oversight.  The Committee does not pursue any review of programs or industries submitted to them by the NDOC’s Deputy Director of Prison Industries.  Connett brings them a proposal for a new industry or product line and informs that he has determined this would be a viable industry or contract.  The only information obtained by the Committee is a one-sided presentation from the NDOC.  They perform no independent analysis, provide no notice to the public, labor unions of competing private businesses.  No opportunity is provided to any of these affected groups to attend a subsequent meeting where the proposal would be discussed.

Instead, as we now understand from both the NDOC Director and the BPC, the Committee has been operating as the final word on approving new industries.  The requirement of forwarding Committee recommendations to the BPC for final review and approval has been somehow eliminated.  The skipping of this important step results in the NDOC securing approval of an “interim” legislative body for new programs without notice or conference with the executive department.  The BPC has overall authority over the NDOC but in this manner they are kept out of the loop and the only safeguards provided to the public is a small Committee that has never performed their duties as required.

Even if the chain of review operated as required, this Committee would end up stamping proposals with their recommendation and forwarding it to the BPC – with a recommendation that was determined in the absence of any actual review, public input or notice.  Their determinations would be based solely upon the presentation made by the NDOC accompanied by a departmental analysis indicating the program and contract with a private company would be successful.

But, if as the BPC claims, the approval for the manufacture of products for the casinos, resorts and clothing retailers, water trucks, limousines and restoring classic cars, were ultimately not approved by them, they would still share responsibility with the Committee for lost jobs or contracts resulting from those operations.  They too have a duty to perform final reviews and failed to notice that new proposals were not being submitted.

The fact that the BPC is now attempting to address the issue and make corrections to ensure no more Nevadans lose jobs and businesses aren’t faced with unfair competition, is a benchmark.  It also highlights that the Committee has been shirking their duties for decades, approving whatever plans the NDOC and SSI put before them without vetting the company’s or the industries proposed by SSI.  They performed no independent or impartial reviews of such proposals, failed to determine factually the impact upon labor and other businesses before stamping each submission “approved”.  Again, one has to ask – why?

The proposal made by Senator Bryan makes good sense to most.  The argument against it came from NDOC Deputy Director Connett and Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch.  Both voiced their opposition to installing the PIE regulations as Nevada law or regulation, claiming that paying prisoners wages comparable to that paid on the outside, would remove the key incentive that attract businesses that exploit inmates  – and ultimately result in the loss of jobs to Nevadans.

Connett told the BPC, “I can’t pay prevailing wages.  If I have to pay prisoners prevailing wages, it would mean closing the industry program completely.”  That statement was more revealing than most who heard it realized.  In the PIE Program industries operated by SSI, prisoners are paid “minimum wage”, not “comparable” or “prevailing” wages as required.  SSI is required to consult with outside businesses and labor unions and groups prior to commencing any new PIE operation…and has not complied with these requirements either.

This explains why Director Cox and Connett have refused to mention or discuss the PIE Program when defending Nevada’s prison industries.  Nor has Connett explained his conflict of interest as head of the NCIA – which promotes prison industries and is tasked with ensuring compliance on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice. Another duty Deputy Director Connett has failed to fulfill.

Apparently the NDOC and top officials fear the BPC or general public looking at the PIE Program’s requirements, will find that the federal mandates have been ignored as well as existing state statutory requirements. Regardless of whether Governor Sandoval and the BPC adopt the proposed PIE Program regulations as state reg’s, the Governor stated, “”Under no circumstances would I want prison labor displacing private sector jobs,” Sandoval said. “I don’t want a situation where private contractors are underbidding by subsidizing with prison labor.” This statement combined with assurances that no further prison industries will be opened without approval from the Board, indicates business owners and unemployed Nevadans are being offered at least a modicum of protection by the Governor and other members of the Board of Prison Commissioners.

In the next article I will report on my exclusive interview with Randy Bulloch and other interviews obtained while I was in Nevada for the BPC meeting.  I’ll also introduce Jacob’s Trading Company and owner Irwin Jacob and how both have attempted to build a unique empire using prison labor and factories.  JTC operates another of SSI’s prison industries in Nevada using female prisoners as a unique labor force and SSI has applied for funding to expand the facilities for JTC to put on a third shift and employ an additional 18 workers.  This discussion continues, while Nevada’s unemployed remains at near record levels and Governor Sandoval continues to inform that creating jobs is his number one priority.

Like a bad rash, Voter ID bill returns to NC

voter suppressionIt’s ba-aack. The Voter ID bill is on the GOP agenda again.

Last night the Republican leadership held a public hearing on proposed Voter ID legislation. (It happened after press time; check our Triangulator blog for a roundup.)

The bill, which almost 75 percent of North Carolinians support, according to a recent Elon University poll, is being framed as a way to address the issue of voter fraud. Except there have been no notable instances of voter fraud. And there’s another reason former Gov. Bev Perdue put the kibosh on Voter ID when the measure landed on her desk in 2011: “This bill, as written, will unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters,” she stated at the time.

It’s difficult to know what identification will suffice at the polls if Voter ID becomes law, but it’s likely that a driver’s license or a state-issued identification card will be required.

Opponents of the legislation point out that a significant number of North Carolina voters don’t have photo ID and may find obtaining one to be time-consuming and expensive. Numbers from the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles and State Board of Elections, compiled by watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, show that 506,000 active registered voters in the state don’t have photo ID: 31 percent are African-American, 66 percent are women, 26 percent are seniors and 53 percent are Democrats, compared to 23 percent who are Republican.

The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has beenThom Tillis ALEC legislator of the year behind the design of these bills nationwide. (House Speaker Thom Tillis is an ALEC member, and won a State Legislator of the Year award in 2011.) According to data from New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, at least 34 states have introduced photo ID legislation since 2011, and in eight states, new photo ID bills have become law.

Though Tillis pledged that the bill “will include provisions that make IDs readily available at no cost to residents,” Democracy NC Executive Director Bob Hall says that making IDs free could cost the state millions of dollars and is an democracy ncunlikely scenario.

“There [would be] people having to go get a driver’s license,” says Hall, “and then it turns out they have to go get a birth certificate. Then the birth certificate has their maiden name on it, so then they have to get a marriage license to show that their name has changed. The whole thing starts to add up to a lot of money and it really does amount to a poll tax.”

There’s also the question of the bill’s necessity. According to Veronica Degraffenreid of the state Board of Elections: “There’s no evidence to substantiate any type of widespread or systematic voter fraud in North Carolina. There are various types of voter fraud, so to the extent that any one person or entity has impersonated another voter, then certainly voter ID would help to prevent that specific type of voter fraud. But in the elections world there are other types of fraud that voter ID may not necessarily address.”

The kinds of voter fraud that voter ID laws would potentially address—impersonation and misrepresentation of residency—are rare in North Carolina. An official document from the Board of Elections states that “most allegations prove to be unfounded, lack criminal intent, or cannot be substantiated.”

From 2000–2012, district attorneys investigated just two cases of impersonation and three in which residency was thought to have been misrepresented.

Because of its potential to disenfranchise African-American voters, voter IDI won't live with Jim Crow legislation has been compared to the Jim Crow laws that institutionalized racism in the U.S. for almost a century. “The horror villain we can’t get rid of, essentially the specter of Jim Crow,” says N.C. Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller, “returns to the nightmare on Jones Street we’re seeing in this state.”

However, the constitutionality of voter ID legislation has already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2008 ruled 6–3 that Indiana’s voter ID law is constitutional.

In North Carolina though, legislation faces a major hurdle: 40 counties with histories of discriminatory voting practices are covered by Section 5 of the LBJVoting Rights Act. Any changes to the voting laws in these jurisdictions must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Hall says that Section 5 provides the basis for a challenge. “The Justice Department did step in, in South Carolina, for exactly the same reason,” he said. “They had the numbers that show that a disproportionately high number of African-Americans would be the ones who are registered voters who don’t have a driver’s license. And we’ve got that data here.”

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This article is written by Jane Porter and is published at http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/like-a-bad-rash-voter-id-bill-returns/Content?oid=3394545

IndyWeek

 all highlights and pictures were added by the VLTP editor

Koch Brother Fronts Flood into Kansas to Attack Wind Industry

Koch Brother Fronts Flood into Kansas to Attack Wind Industry

A recent flood of Koch-supported think tanks, junk scientists and astroturf groups from inside and outside of Kansas are awaiting the outcome of a bill this week that could stall progress on the growth of clean energy in Kansas.

Climate Crime SceneStates around the country, including Texas, Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina are poised to cut back on government support for clean energy jobs using model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which brings companies together with state lawmakers to forge a wish list of corporate state laws behind closed doors, is coordinating this year’s assault on state laws that require a gradual increase of electricity generated by clean energy sources.

ALEC and a hoard of other Koch-funded interests operating under the umbrella of the State Policy Network have hit Kansas legislators hard with junk economic studies, junk science and a junk vision of more polluting energy in Kansas’ future. Koch Industries lobbyist Jonathan Small has added direct pressure on Kansas lawmakers to rollback support for clean energy.

This fossil fuel-funded attack ignores the good that wind energy has done for Kansas, a state known for its bipartisan support for its growing wind industry (see key report by Polsinelli Shughart). The state now has 19 operating wind farms that have brought millions to farmers leasing their land and millions more to the state, county and local levels (NRDC). The American Wind Energy Association says that Kansas wind industry jobs have grown to 13,000 with the help of incentives like the renewable portfolio standard.

Unfortunately, clean energy is not palatable to the billionaire Koch brothers or the influence peddlers they finance. All of the following State Policy Network affiliates (except the Kansas Policy Institute) are directly funded by the Koch brothers, while most of the groups get secretive grants through the Koch-affiliated “Dark Money ATM,” Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which have distributed over $120,000,000 to 100 groups involved in climate denial since 2002.

Beacon Hill InstituteBeacon Hill Institute

  • $53,500 grant from Donors Trust in 2007
  • Koch-funded (Washington Post)
  • State Policy Network member

Based out of Suffolk University’s economics department, the Beacon Hill Institute wrote the fundamentally flawed analysis that ALEC is using to scare legislators into thinking that renewable portfolio standards will destroy the economy. In reality, electricity prices do not correlate with state RPS laws (see also Kansas Corporation Commission).

An extensive debunk of the Beacon Hill report was done by Synapse Energy Economics, and similar critiques can be read in the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Morning Sentinel, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nature Resources Defense Council and the Washington Post.

The definitive Post article confirms that the Beacon Hill Institute is Koch-funded. This may be through $729,826 in recent grants (2008-2011) from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to Suffolk University. The Kochs tend to send grants to economics departments, causing controversy at Florida State University and other schools over professor hiring processes.

Beacon Hill’s Michael Head co-authored the reports that ALEC and the State Policy Network are using in several states. Mr. Head specializes in STAMP modeling, a form of economic analysis that has been criticized for its limitations and poor assumptions in the case of energy analysis.

Michael Head testified before the Kansas legislature on February 14th to promote the flawed findings of his report. Mr. Head testified alongside members of the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute (see more on each, below), all of which are members of ALEC and SPN.

American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): alec

ALEC is leading the nationally-coordinated attack on state renewable portfolio standards as part of an ambitious dirty energy agenda for the members of its anti-environmental task force, like Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and other major oil, gas and coal interests.

ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act” is a full repeal of state laws requiring increasing electricity generation from clean sources, although in some states the model has morphed into a freeze of those targets rather than a full repeal. Kansas is one of those states.

The bills running through Kansas’ House and Senate are co-sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. The Senate Utilities committee sponsoring SB 82 has at least three  ALEC members and the House Energy & Environment committee that introduced HB 2241 has at least three ALEC members:

  • Senators Forrest Knox, Ty Masterson and Mike Petersen.
  • Representatives Phil Hermanson, Scott Schwab, and Larry Powell (member of ALEC’s anti-environmental task force that created the Electricity Freedom Act)

While it’s unclear if the lead House sponsor Rep. Dennis Hedke is directly affiliated with ALEC, he spoke directly with a Koch Industries lobbyist about the bill and has a close relationship with the Heartland Institute, which promoted one of his books.


The Heartland Institute:
heartland institute

Heartland is based in Chicago and perhaps best known for its billboard comparing those who recognize climate change with the Unabomber (for which they lost over $1.4 million in corporate sponsorship along with the “mutiny” of their entire Insurance department, now the R Street Institute).

The Washington Post reports that ALEC’s “Electricity Freedom Act” was created by the Heartland Institute. Heartland has long been a paying member of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force along with Koch, Exxon and others. Citing the flawed Beacon Hill reports, Heartland has encouraged a repeal of Kansas’ clean energy incentives on its website.

Heartland lawyer James Taylor testified before the Kansas legislature in February, opining that the growth of Kansas’ clean energy sector is “punishing the state’s economy and environment.” James Taylor was flown into Kansas City for an Americans for Prosperity Foundation event intended to undermine the Kansas RPS law. The AFP Foundation is chaired by David Koch.

Americans for Prosperity:David Koch at AFP event

  •  State Policy Network member; ALEC anti-environmental task force member
  • Chaired by David Koch, founded by Koch executivesChairman

David Koch at an
Americans for Prosperity event

Americans for Prosperity was created by the Kochs with help from Koch Industries executive Richard Fink after the demise of their previous organization, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into AFP and FreedomWorks in 2004.

In addition to hosting an event against the Kansas RPS law featuring Heartland’s James Taylor, AFP’s Kansas director Derrick Sontag testified before the Kansas House committee on Energy and Environment. AFP’s Sontag urged for a full repeal rather than a simple RPS target freeze:

“We believe that HB 2241 is a step in the right direction, but that it doesn’t go far enough. Instead, AFP supports a full repeal of the renewable energy mandate in Kansas.”

Derrick Sontag apparently only cited a range of debunked studies (the “Spanish” study and the flawed Beacon Hill report) and information from Koch-funded interests like the Institute for Energy Research and “State Budget Solutions,” a project of several State Policy Network groups including ALEC and the Mercatus Center, a think tank founded and heavily-funded by the Kochs.

Kansas Policy InstituteKansas Policy Institute

The Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) has been the central coordinating think tank within Kansas as outside interests have backed ALEC’s attack clean energy laws. KPI co-published the debunked Beacon Hill Institute report that ALEC has used for its clean energy standard repeal in Kansas (see sources in Beacon Hill section above for debunking).

Kansas Policy Institute Vice President & Policy Director James Franko testified in the Kansas legislature alongside representatives of Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and Beacon Hill Institute on Feb. 14 to weaken Kansas’s renewable portfolio standard.

Reasserting the false premise that clean energy standards substantially increase electricity prices, James Franko told the legislature’s Energy & Environment committee:

We have no objection to the production of renewable energy. […] Our objection is to government intervention that forces utility companies to purchase more expensive renewable energy and pass those costs on to consumers.

James Franko’s free market logic comes with the usual holes–no mention of the “costs” of coal and other polluting forms of energy that taint our air, water and bodies, nor any mention of how the government spends billions each year propping up the coal and oil industries.

After KPI’s Franko testified before Kansas legislators on February 14, KPI hosted a luncheon for legislators at noon on the same day. The luncheon, hosted at the Topeka Capital Plaza Hotel, featured Beacon Hill’s Michael Head. From KPI’s email invitation:

“Given the importance of this issue, we would like to invite you to join us for lunch on Thursday 14 February to hear from the author of a study we published last year exploring the costs and benefits of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Not only will we be discussing KPI’s study but offering a review of different studies that have been presented to the Legislature.”

KPI has served as the glue for other State Policy Network affiliates entering Kansas to amplify the opposition to clean energy.

Chris Horner — Competitive Enterprise Institute & American Tradition Institute

Chris Horner is a senior fellow at CEI and the lead lawyer at ATI, a close CEI affiliate known for its litigious harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann alongside Virginia attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who just worked with coal utility companies to kill Virginia’s renewable energy law. ATI was behind a leaked memo encouraging “subversion” among local groups opposed to wind energy projects.

Horner testified before the Kansas legislature on February 12 to encourage the false notion that the renewable energy portfolio standard is going to make consumer electricity bills skyrocket (again, there is no correlation between state RPS laws and electricity prices). He cited the long-debunked “Spanish” study, which Koch front groups have cited for years in attempts to undermine clean energy.

Horner is affiliated with several other Koch- and Exxon-funded State Policy Network affiliates such as the National Center for Policy Analysis and Tech Central Station (set up by DCI Group).

Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform:Americans for Tax Reform

ATR president Grover Norquist wrote a Feb. 27, 2013 letter supporting the Rep. Dennis Hedke’s House bill shortly before the bill was kicked back into the House Utilities commission. This Kansas letter followed an ATR op-ed in Politico encouraging rollbacks of state clean energy incentives, claiming they are a “tax,” which is Norquist’s consistent tactic against anything the financiers of ATR don’t feel like supporting.

Junk scientists with Koch and Exxon ties:

Disgraced scientists Willie Soon and John Christy were flown in by Americans for Prosperity to assure state legislators that global warming isn’t a problem (it’s already a $1.2 trillion problem annually). Doctor’s Soon and Christy themselves directly funded by Koch or directly affiliated with several Koch-funded interests like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heartland.

Willie Soon in particular has a habit of conducting climate “research” on the Willie Soonexclusive dime of coal and oil interests over the last decade:

  • ExxonMobil ($335,106)
  • American Petroleum Institute ($273,611 since 2001)
  • Charles G. Koch Foundation ($230,000)
  • Southern Company ($240,000)

Dr. Soon’s questionable climate research now receives funding through the Donors Trust network–$115,000 in 2011 and 2012.

See Skeptical Science’s profile of John Christy for a through explanation of why he is not a credible voice in the scientific community studying climate change, using peer-reviewed climate research as refutation.

State Policy NetworkSPN

KOCH INDUSTRIES koch industries logo

  • Based in Wichita, Kansas
  • Operations in oil refining, oil and gas pipelines, fossil fuel commodity & derivatives trading, petrochemical manufacturing, fertilizers, textiles, wood and paper products, consumer tissue products, cattle ranching, and other ventures.
  • $115 billion in estimated annual revenue
  • 84% private owned between brothers Charles Koch and David Koch, each worth an estimated $34 billion (Forbes) to $44.7 billion (Bloomberg).
  • Member of ALEC’s anti-environmental task force
  • Associated foundations fund State Policy Network, ALEC, Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Beacon Hill Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and Dr. Willie Soon.
  • Koch brothers founded Americans for Prosperity and helped establish the Heartland Institute.

The money trail of the out-of-state groups inundating Kansas with their sudden interest in killing the state’s incentives for wind energy leads back to the Koch brothers. While Koch Industries has deployed its own lobbyists to compliment the effort, the brothers who lead the company have tapped into their broader national network to aid the fight against clean energy in Kansas.

Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who own Koch Industries, have spent over $67,000,000 from their family foundations on groups who have denied the existence or extent of global climate change, promote fossil fuel use and block policies that promote clean energy development.

The Kochs obscure millions more in annual giving through Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, which collect money from the Kochs and other wealthy corporate interests and pass it on to State Policy Network groups.

This video provides a visual overview of how the Koch-funded network amplifies unscientific doubt over climate science and blocks clean energy policies.  Please click here to watch.

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This article is written by Connor Gibson and is published at http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2013/03/11/koch-brother-fronts-flood-into-kansas-to-attack-wind-industry-report/

greenpeace

 

Will Your Job Be Reshored To A Federal Prisoner?

By Justin Rohrlich Mar 12, 2013 1:21 pm

From Minyanville…

“The good news for the jobless? US industry is now in the throes of a “reshoring” trend…

“The bad news? The Bureau of Prisons is angling to have as many reshored jobs as possible filled by federal prisoners.”

Journalist Justin Rohrlich and VLTP Executive Director, Bob Sloan have begun a project to fully expose the “new” face of prison industries and exploitation of prisoners, America’s workers and “genuine” small businesses.

images (7)

   PI workers, folsom state prison Oregon Prison Ind. Photo Inmate-Labor

 

This article presents the dilemma of a President and part of his administration working to put Americans back to work, while another part of that same administration is actively working to remove jobs from those who still have them, and put them in prison – the jobs, that is.

Unfortunately we are not describing the plot in a Grisham novel…or providing readers with a Roddenberry style “America in 2525” sci-fi mini-series…no, what is occurring now – right now in America – is a push by manufacturers and service providers for a workforce that can be made to work for pennies on the dollar, has no collective bargaining rights by law, is prohibited from unionization and requires no health or medical insurance, no paid vacations, has no representation in government and most importantly, the rest of working America has no sympathy for.  This workforce consists of the more than 2 million men and women incarcerated in state and federal prisons.

Unbelievably it is our Congress and a Federal Prison Industries board appointed by the President who recently opened up federal prison facilities and the labor of prisoners to well connected business owners.  Production lines will be assembled, prisoners assigned to work in newly built factories constructed by a private corporation wholly owned by the United States government.

We’re told by our Lawmakers and government officials that the purpose of these factories is for training of the incarcerated to make them better Americans, give them skills so they can leave prison and secure employment that lessens their desire to return to prison.  We’ll also be assured that these prisoners are not really taking jobs from our communities…the products they make will only represent a tiny segment of any consumer market.  Problem is we heard all this before thirty years ago when there were fewer than 5,000 prisoners working in less than 100 factories across the U.S.

Today there are more than 1,000 factories – and according to Professor Noah Zatz – between 600,000 and 1 million prisoners toiling away inside, making the goods we consumers purchase.  Yes, this is an entirely new era and in the future, this will be remembered as a sad benchmark in our history…when our government swung open the squeaking doors to America’s federal prisons and welcomed the corporate elite to march in and take over this slave-labor operation so each could enrich themselves even further…

…America’s workers…union leaders…don’t ever say you weren’t warned, and this could be the last opportunity you have to stop this exploitation and theft of YOUR jobs.  Please awaken to this danger, join the fight and help us save ourselves and our jobs.

Read the full Rohrlich/Minyanville article here

Dr. Niaz Kasvari: Private Prisons are the New Slave Ships of America

Dr. Niaz Kasvari: Private Prisons are the New Slave Ships of America

Dr. Niaz Kasvari, Director of the NAACP Criminal Justice Program recently wrote a very compelling article about the serious CCA patchdangers of private prisons.   Dr. Kasvari mentions specifically the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) as the primary culprit, and the company that is truly happy to see you and your loved ones behind bars.   I know the prison system well:  I’ve had several close relatives to go prison, all of them men.  I also know that none of them were better men because of it, and that it was a life of post-felony marginalization that left the man I considered to be my older brother destitute and homeless until he died last summer.  These institutions are as poisonous to our society as drone strikes are to young children in countries around the world.

Another interesting article at Techyville.com goes into detail about how the private prison industry is structured, and who benefits.   According to Dr. Niaz Kasvari, the CCA sent a letter to 48 governors offering to purchase their prisons in exchange for a guaranteed occupancy rate of 90 percent.  This dangerous statement implies that the CCA is actively seeking to persuade legislators to modify and enforce laws in such a way that more American citizens will end up in prison.  

While law-abiding Americans reading this article may not see the dangers in such a proposal, I encourage you to remember that everyone breaks the law at some point, and it is only the strictness with which the law is enforced that makes the difference between whether we are free or incarcerated.

The CCA earns $1.7 billion per year by putting people in prison, mostly African Americans.  Part of the reason that I am gathering for a public forum with Min. Louis Farrakhan in Chicago on March 30 (5 pm, UIC forum) is because mass incarceration has served to destroy the black family in America.  The rapid increase in single parent homes and the pervasive spread of prison culture in the black community is largely driven by the growth in incarceration rates all across America.  Black people are being fed like cattle into the prison industrial complex, and the lives of our children have little value to this system.

Dr. Niaz Kasvari also notes that the CCA considers modifications to even the most Draconian drug laws to be a threat that could “affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

As a Finance Professor, I am well-aware of the dangers of hardcore capitalism.   If it is not properly regulated, capitalism can be as harmful to our society as crack cocaine is to the mind of an addict.  Similar to crack, the drug of capitalism can cause you to make decisions that are in direct contradiction to the values you claim to embrace as a human being.  It can create a pharmaceutical industry that lets human beings die because they can’t afford medication, and it can create a prison industry that actually wants to see people behind bars, even if our society is being ruined because of it.

When we incarcerate so many millions of Americans, our world becomes less safe and more unstable.  Today, the streets are filled with young, misguided teenagers, many of whom grew up without parents who were given long sentences for non-violent, drug-related offenses.  Black women have fewer men to marry because prison culture has come to play a role in shaping how too many black men think and live.

Even worse, many of our men grew up with a steady dose of brainwashing via commercialized hip-hop on the radio that teaches them that every black man is supposed to be a blunt-blowing, gun totting thug who wastes his money and takes pleasure in killing black men while disrespecting black women.   These systems create a type of mental illness that causes us to become something other than what we were truly meant to be, and that is why our families are falling apart.

This is the society that is being created around us, and this is the battle we are in.  All of us should support those like Dr. Niaz Kasvari who are fighting against the dangers of the prison industrial complex.  The goal is not to get rid of punishment and rehabilitation as a logical response to crime.  Instead, it is to embrace productive rehabilitation that makes communities stronger and not weaker.

We are in the fight of our lives.
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This article is published at ThyBlackMan.com and can be found at http://thyblackman.com/2013/03/01/dr-niaz-kasvari-private-prisons-are-the-new-slave-ships-of-america/ It was written by Staff Writer;
Dr. Boyce Watkins thy black man

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  For more information, please visit http://BoyceWatkins.com.

Nevada Ways and Means Committee Weighs in on Prison Industry Battle

The Result of Bureaucrats’ Operating as Businessmen

By VLTP Executive Director, Bob Sloan

In the continuing saga of Nevada’s Silver State Industries (SSI), the Legislature’s Ways and Means Committee held a hearing this past Friday, March 8th to discuss the budget of the Nevada DOC which includes state prison industry operations.

Critics of the industry program have found traction with the discovery that Alpine Steel, a private company, had access to inmate labor, subsidized facility leases and even with those subsidized benefits owed the state more than $400,000 in accrued debt.  In late 2012 when this story first broke, it was discovered that Alpine also owed inmate workers back wages to the tune of $78,000.  Because inmates are “assigned” to industry jobs by the NDOC, they were prohibited from simply quitting or asking for a reassignment due to not being paid.  They worked for an extended period without receiving any compensation for their labor – or if they were paid the wages did not come from their employer, Alpine Steel.

Connett and Cox pix

On Friday morning Committee members had an opportunity to question two top NDOC officials, Director Cox and his Deputy Director in charge of prison industries, Brian Connett.  Those in attendance described the meeting as tense between lawmakers and corrections officials.

Once this story broke in the media, Alpine made the necessary back wage payments to the inmate workers – but continues to owe the state for delinquent lease payments and NDOC staff salaries.  One Assemblyman asked the Deputy Director if the state had paid those salaries, and if so had Alpine repaid the outstanding wages.  The response was a half-truth, with Connett responding, “The back wages have all been paid.”  In fact those wages are part of the total $415,000 owed by Alpine.  The wages already paid are those owed to inmate workers – not NDOC staffers, which remain outstanding.

At times lawmakers displayed exasperation as they attempted to extract factual answers from Cox and Connett, who had difficulty answering direct questions related to prison industry operations; failing industry programs, financial losses and low cost leases of public facilities to private companies.

Cox and Connett were even less open about the situation involving Alpine Steel’s use of inmate labor to compete against other businesses in Southern Nevada, or the huge sum owed by Alpine to the NDOC for back lease and DOC staff payments.

Though lawmakers voiced concerns of the impact upon workers in the private sector and competing businesses, Cox and Connett did not seem to share those concerns, instead advocating that inmates need training while incarcerated to help reduce recidivism.  The irony of turning prisoner training over to a company with a history of questionable business practices – IRS tax liens ($668,000+), $415,000 in back lease and DOC staff salary obligations, unpaid state taxes (new Nevada Dept. of Taxation lien for $37,000 filed within the past month against Alpine’s owner, Randy Bulloch), lawsuits for money owed to creditors (F&M Steel and Pierce Aluminum) and is in litigation over unpaid worker’s compensation claims ($84,716 owed to Explorer Insurance Co.) – was apparently lost on Director Cox.

After all the controversy, debt owed to the state and concerns of both Nevada’s organized labor, workers and private businesses, Cox appeared openly insensitive to both issues by advising Committee members if Alpine’s business picked up, he would reopen the metal fabrication shop at High Desert State Prison to the company! This is indicative of a bureaucrat who genuinely believes he can make such decisions without consulting higher government or legislative authorities.

The general attitude of both was that inmate training was more important than the possible loss of jobs to Nevada’s unemployed steel workers, the potential for lost tax dollars or the impact upon businesses competing with Alpine Steel – or any of the half dozen other companies operating under joint venture contracts with Silver State Industries.

At one point Connett indicated that some of those complaining had been offered a chance to “partner” with the prison industry and had declined, seeming to suggest those businesses shared responsibility for any damage resulting from competition from prison industry operations…because they didn’t take him up on the offer.

Some answers provided to the Committee were enlightening, if incomplete.  Director Cox stated,”the cold hard facts are now that we have to aggressively look at what industries are not turning a profit.”

In addition to losses sustained by prison industry operations, the administrative office is operating in the red ($165,000+ over past two years), the industries’ furniture and metal, auto, upholstery and drapery shops have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past few years.  Collectively Silver State Industries lost $81,597 in 2011 and $237,793 last year overall.

In 2010 the prison industries turned over more than $800,000 in accounts receivable to a collection agency and currently SSI’s past due AR account is in excess of $600,000.  In the budget discussion it was disclosed that the prison industry arm of the NDOC had a reserve fund of $1.5 million which due to continuous losses has been reduced to half a million.  If forced to absorb Alpine’s debt, the reserve fund will be exhausted.

David Bobzien, D-RenoIn response to the dwindling reserve, Assemblyman David Bobzien, D-Reno voiced concern that when that reserve is exhausted, the prison industry would begin to dip into the general revenue fund, saying, “This is a clear track into the dirt, and without substantial retooling, it’ll be in the hole”

 

 

Catherine Cortez Masto, Michael Sprinkle, John Hambrick

Bobzien and Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, D-Sparks, questioned Cox about whether industry programs would be cut and what the department would do to get its industry program on a sustainable track.

Cox said he’s “very pessimistic” about future revenues and that “when resources go, of course programs will go.”  They were unable to get Cox to provide them with definitive responses or propose solutions to cure the industry’s financial woes.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick

“It appears that at some point the reserves are going to run out, but in the meantime, it’s a loss-loss across the state,” Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, said, weighing in.  Kirkpatrick also had difficulty getting straight answers to some of her questions on business management issues and as to whether the prison industry program is really about training or rather a work program, putting inmates to work for privately owned companies at the expense of non-inmate workers.

Big House ChoppersIn supporting the prison industry operations, Connett pointed to the “Big House Chopper” program.  An industry created by Howard Skolnik when he was in Connett’s position.  While using that program as an indicator of the work inmates were capable of and alluding that this industry was successful, he failed to advise the Committee that he closed that program two years previously:

 

“Mr. Magnani said some time ago the motorcycle production was shut down, there was some motorcycles that Prison Industries was attempting to sell online. Mr. Magnani requested an update to the status of the built motorcycles. Mr. Connett informed the Committee that three motorcycles were for sale. Prison Industries was looking at reducing the price based on the current market. The motorcycle operation has been discontinued.”

Prison Industries manufactured a total of five motorcycles.  Two of those were sold in a “sweetheart deal” to one of Connett’s other prison industry companies, Thomson Equipment.  Despite vigorous advertising on eBay and other outlets, the remaining three have now sat for several years without any interest shown by potential buyers.  Another example of funds wasted to advance a prison project that has eaten away at the profits generated by other industries – both in dollars spent for materials as well as advertising.

Clearly referring to the motorcycle industry, the Deputy Director exhibited these half-truths to the Ways and Means Committee in an attempt to justify the need and usefulness of continued “training” of prisoners – whether the industry providing the training is viable or not.  In the case of Big House Choppers, it is long gone.

Examinations of the financial statement(s) for SSI for 2011-12 reflect that traditional prison industries such as farming, ranching, license plates, prison garment(s) and printing were all profitable.  It is the industries operating in partnership with private companies that are failing; metal shop (Alpine), drapery, automotive and upholstery for example.

Not only are these failing industries losing money, they are the ones negatively impacting upon private workers, potential workers and suppressing expansion of competing Nevada businesses.  These are also the industries that have been receiving substantial tax and lease benefits that are denied to competing businesses, resulting in an unfair advantage.  Companies using inmate labor do not appear to be paying Nevada’s Modified Business Tax, which further depletes the tax base while increasing potential corporate profits and disadvantaging their competitors.

Another issue of contention was the lease agreement between SSI and Alpine.  In 2011 Alpine was in arrears yet Connett authorized a lease contract that provided 19,000 square feet of manufacturing space at the unbelievable rate of $.26 cents per square foot ($5,000 per month).  The Nevada average for such space has been depressed due to the recession, but is currently at $.68 cents per square foot.  For the same square footage a private company would pay $12,990 per month in the “free world.”  This saved Alpine as much as $95,000 a year in operating expenses.  Assemblyman Bobzien called the Alpine lease an “unfair subsidy”.  There was no question as to how many of the other companies partnered with SSI were receiving similar low cost leases.

All of the losses described above, lead to more than an “appearance” of total mismanagement.  It is assumed that Greg Cox was chosen as the Director of the NDOC based upon an ongoing career in corrections.  He wasn’t chosen for his business acumen.  Putting him in charge of overseeing contracts, leasing arrangements and other commercial business decisions appears to be well outside his expertise.  Between them, Cox and Connett have made decisions that have negatively impacted taxpayers, private businesses and Nevada’s workers – yet when called before a legislative body to explain those decisions, they exhibited their lack of actual knowledge and experience in business practices.  Making matters worse they demonstrated they were willing to blunder through and by making statements claiming they would reopen the prison metal industry to Alpine Steel…and claiming Alpine Steel deserved a lower lease rate because of the difficulties of getting materials in and out of the prison and transportation logistics.

Again it needs to be said that those are matters for someone higher along the government chain to consider and make the final decision on.  It is unrealistic to allow a Deputy Director or Director to enter into binding contracts and leases that reduce the revenue streams from leasing state owned property or facilities.  It is also unrealistic to give Cox or Connett the authority to waive payments owed for leases, salaries or materials owed to the state.  By assuming these duties, these bureaucrats were gambling with taxpayer money, betting on Alpine Steel and similar companies to ultimately become viable and repay debts owed – debts they allowed to accrue and are now having difficulty justifying.  All can now see they lost that wager, with Alpine Steel and other companies owing NDOC more than $600,000 collectively.

 

Danny ThompsonIn the public discussion period following the questioning of Cox and Connett, Danny Thompson, executive secretary treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO discussed the impact upon non-inmate workers on the outside from contracts such as that between SSI and Alpine.  He brought up the issue of safety to Nevada citizens that travel over or under a bridge spanning Interstate 15 that was constructed using prisoners in a “training program”. He said Alpine Steel produced steel girders for the construction project at the North Fifth Street Bridge in North Las Vegas and he questioned whether strict certification requirements for such projects were complied with in the training of inmate workers.

Thompson also called into question whether the materials used in the project met strict industry, state and federal specifications as to stress, weight and other factors involving materials used in the project – and wanted to know if inspections were conducted properly.  He also expressed concerns over the Wet ‘N’ Wild theme park project where Alpine was the structural steel contractor, saying he worried about the safety of children and families who would be visiting the park where inmates in training made many of the steel components.

CONWAY ROBERT PDA member of the Iron Workers Union, Local 433, Robert Conway also spoke, stating he had three hundred and fifty qualified iron workers without jobs, while the state was helping provide inmate welders for Alpine at wages far below the prevailing wage.  He also voiced concerns over the safety issues raised by allowing inmate steel workers to fabricate steel components used in public projects.

In response to criticism from Committee members and the public, Alpine owner, Randy Bulloch appeared via teleconference from Las Vegas and issued a statement in response to Thompson’s concerns, claiming that inmate workers were in fact certified as required.  He denied the use of structural steel components manufactured by Alpine in the bridge project and added that he had copies of material inspections and specs.  Bulloch spoke about his company in general terms but made no effort to defend the use of prison labor in the manufacture of structural steel used in his business.  It should be noted that Alpine Steel makes no mention on their website of the use of prison labor in manufacturing steel components, or that the company is involved in helping train prisoners.  That factoid is noticeably absent – as it is with TJ Wholesale and Jacob’s Trading, two other companies partnered with SSI and leasing facilities from the NDOC.

What wasn’t posed to Connett and Cox in the questioning by the Assembly Committee was the issue of a potential conflict of interest involving Nevada’s prison industry and compliance oversight.

The trade group, National Correctional Industries Association (NCIA) provides oversight over all prison industries in the U.S. and of late, internationally.  The NCIA does this under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

This trade group advocates and lobbies on behalf of companies, corporations and organizations involved in prison industry operations, supplying those operations or benefiting from the labor of inmates.  Connett is currently serving as the  Chairman of the NCIA and thus able to make determinations as to whether his actions and thus SSI are in compliance with prevailing laws.

Many of the questions posed to Cox and Connett by the Committee members arose due to a comprehensive study I conducted for the non-profit Voters Legislative Transparency Project (VLTP) organization. As Executive Director with an interest in prison industries, I have been involved in researching and investigating prison industry programs for more than a decade.  In January VLTP submitted the study of Nevada’s prison industries to members of the Nevada legislature, Governor Sandoval, AG Masto and Secretary of State, Ross Miller.

In that report many of the deficiencies and issues discussed Friday were presented along with documentation supporting the conclusions and recommendations made.  The questions posed by Committee members indicates they had all read the study and wanted answers to the questions raised by the research.

One observation made during the research phase of compiling the study, is that it appears that Cox, Connett and the NDOC are attempting to run the state department of corrections as a “business” rather than a state agency.  Partnering with businessmen and women who deal daily in matters of profit/loss and market share, the NDOC is woefully unprepared, as the accounts receivable and low-cost lease to Alpine demonstrate.  Director Cox, Connett and the NDOC seem not to understand that any losses arising from these partnerships between SSI and private companies are ultimately borne by Nevada’s taxpayers.  This already happened in 2010 when Cox’s predecessor, Howard Skolnik applied for a Supplemental appropriation from the Legislature due to losses incurred from recession and reductions in prison industry income.

With more than a million in uncollected debt since 2010 and lost streams of revenue due to sub-par leases, industries losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, the NDOC is being critically mismanaged.  As a state agency, it is the taxpayer who will be left making up the lost revenue from this lack of management.

One recommendation made directly to the Governor was that Nevada adopts the in-place mandatory guidelines of the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (Pie Program).  This program allows joint ventures between private companies and state prison industries.  It provides a way for private enterprise to have access to inmate labor and to distribute products across state lines, sell to the U.S. government in amounts exceeding $10,000 and to sell those goods in consumer markets.

The Pie Program has nine mandatory requirements and four of those developed by Congress for this program include:

  • Wages. Authority to pay wages at a rate not less than that paid for work of a similar nature in the locality in which the work is performed.
  • Non-inmate worker displacement. Written assurances that PIECP will not result in the displacement of employed workers; be applied in skills, crafts, or trades in which there is a surplus of available gainful labor in the locality; or significantly impair existing contracts.
  • Consultation with organized labor. Written proof of consultation with organized labor prior to program startup.
  • Consultation with local private industry. Written proof of consultation with local private industry prior to program startup.

Nevada is already participating in this program and has Pie Program operations running in the prison industry.  Those businesses appear to be operating without financial losses to the state or SSI, in compliance with the mandatory requirements and thus, not exhibiting any of the problems the non-Pie Program involving Alpine is.

Adopting these regulations would ensure consultation with competing businesses, labor groups, and unions ensuring inmates are paid the required prevailing wage.  Since the NDOC deducts 24.5% of the gross wages paid to inmate workers, the amount taken through this deduction would increase and those funds would be used to offset the costs of incarceration. Combine adopting these guidelines with genuine oversight provided by the Nevada Board of Prison Commissioners, chaired by Governor Sandoval and I believe this is a solution to the existing problems experienced by the NDOC.

Continuing to allow a private non-profit trade association to oversee the state’s prison industries in the face of the controversy that has erupted while they had such oversight duties, is asking for more trouble.  As the head of the NCIA Connett has demonstrated he lacks the desire to enforce compliance and he is willing to put the interests of that organization above his responsibilities to the state.