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“Incentivizing Incarceration”: Court Again Strikes Down Florida Attempt To Privatize Prison Health Care

A Florida court has ruled for the second time that the state Department of Corrections improperly circumvented the legislative process to privatize prison health care. Last October, some state legislators had attempted to privatize the state’s prison health care by folding the funding into budget proviso language. That attempt was held unconstitutional by a Florida judge, who said the legislature could only do so through a separate bill. The legislature then proposed a separate bill in February 2012 that, unsurprisingly, could not garner enough votes to pass.

But that failure wouldn’t satisfy legislators bent on outsourcing the state’s prison health care to private corporations. This time, they were able to include in the legislature-reviewed appropriations bill funding for private prisons in one South Florida region. Seeking to also privatize prison health care in three other regions, the Department of Corrections sought additional funding from the state’s Legislative Budget Commission rather than the full legislature. The LBC granted funds for all four regions and increased the budget from 41 million to 58 million — a move also struck down by Leon County Judge Jackie Fulford:

Whether to privatize some or all of the state’s prison operations is a significant policy decision. Under existing law, the legislature weighs in on this policy decision through its appropriations power. Where, as here, there is no specific appropriation for privatizing health services in Regions I, II or III, it cannot be said that such a significant action has been approved or authorized. […]

Authorizing and funding privatizing health care services in Florida’s prisons is the prerogative of the full legislature and not that of the Legislative Budget Commission.

Even at the time of the vote, some members of the Legislative Budget Commission questioned the legality of expanding funding for private prison health care. But the state nonetheless entered into a contract with Corizon Healthcare to serve those three regions, and forged ahead with notices to nearly 2,000 state workers who would be laid off as a result of the move.

Privatization of health care for nearly 100,000 inmates was billed as a way to cut costs, in part because prison officials anticipated the private companies would offer less benefits to their workers. But studies in other states have shown that private prisons actually cost the state more, while enabling “inhumane” conditions and prompting allegations of preventable deaths. Privatization of the prison system has also incentivized private corporations to lobby for policies that incarcerate more Americans. The United States already has the world’s highest incarceration rate.

 

By: Nicole Flatow, Think Progress, December 7, 2012

December 9, 2012 Posted by | Health Care, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Limits Of Free-Market Capitalism

Until a few years ago, my spiritual devotions were  limited to the free market and the music of Patsy Cline. I’m sorry to say it’s  just me and Patsy now.

Karl Marx may have been wrong where it really mattered—communism, to paraphrase Churchill, is government “of the duds, by the duds,  and for the duds”—but he was spot on about the pitfalls of capitalism,  particularly when it came to the entrenchment of social classes, the fetish of  consumption, the frequency of recession, and the concentration of industry. Yet,  like trained seals, we continue to leap through the flaming rings of a system  that is contemptuous of the public good while rewarding those who feed off  “free” markets and the politicians who rig them. Nearly three years after the  global economy almost collapsed under the weight of a corrupt and inbred  financial order, Washington is still mired between the false choice of the  state or private enterprise as the proper steward of the general welfare.

It should be clear to anyone who has lost a cell phone  signal in our nation’s capital or been denied health coverage because of a  pre-existing ailment that capitalism’s endgame is not freedom of choice and  efficiency, but oligarchy. Many of America’s top industries—agriculture,  airlines, media, medical care, banking, defense, auto production,  telecommunications—are controlled by a handful of corporations who fix prices  like cartels. As Marx predicted, the natural inclination of players in a  market-driven economy is not to compete but to collude.

Reporting in Asia and the Middle East for many years, I  prayed to the same kitchen gods of untrammeled commerce that now bewitch the  Republican Party faithful and the neoliberals who inhabit the Obama White House. In Asia more than a decade ago, I covered the liquidation of state  assets as prescribed by the International Monetary Fund, perhaps the  largest-ever transfer of wealth from public to private hands, as if it were a  new religion that would transform economies from the Korean peninsula to the  Indian subcontinent. Laissez-faireism, I wrote, would liberate consumers and  domesticate once overweening state-owned enterprises.

In fact, privatization merely shifted economic control  from corrupt apparatchiks to their allies in business, a transaction lubricated  with kick-backs and sweetheart deals. That’s what happened in the Middle East,  and it became the spore that engendered the Arab uprising.

The corruption of capitalism in America is all the more  appalling for its legality. With the economy still struggling to recover from a  housing crisis fomented largely by Wall Street’s craving for mortgage-backed  securities, prosecution of those responsible has been confined to a single lawsuit filed by the Securities Exchange Commission against a  lone financier. The system is still lousy with loopholes, and the Republican  Party, which demographically as well as ideologically is becoming a gated  community for white, southern males, is calling for more deregulation, not  less.

Which brings us to the central failure of American  capitalism: the excoriation of the state.

So deep is the mythology of the free market that we  ignore the consequences of starving our schools, libraries, public media, and  roads and railways. We expect our teachers to assume the burdens of parenthood  and then blame them for failing education. We lament our dependence on foreign  oil and the aviation cartels, but we refuse to underwrite a passenger-rail  equivalent of the interstate highway system. We disparage the coarse  reductionism of corporate-owned news outlets while neglecting public  broadcasting, an isolated archipelago of smart, responsible journalism.

Our hostility to the public sector—fountainhead of  the Hoover Dam, Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Los Angeles  Coliseum, our national parks, and countless other public utilities and services  in addition to the federal highway system—is inversely proportional to our  reverence for private consumption. As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his 1958 book The Affluent Society, “Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses are  praiseworthy and essential in our standard of living. Street cleaners to ensure  clean streets are an unfortunate expense. Partly as a result, our houses are  generally clean and our streets are generally filthy.” Galbraith also noted the  uniquely American conceit of sanctioning debt when households and private  investors hold it but condemning it when  governments do.

Should the feds nationalize banks and appropriate soy  fields? Certainly not. At its essence, there is probably no more efficient way  of establishing the price of a particular good or service than market  economics. Not all transactions are so simple, however, and there are some  services—healthcare, for example, or transportation—that often fare better  more as public goods than as private commodities. In order to save American capitalism,  we must appreciate its limits even as we struggle to harness its power.

By: Stephen Glain, U. S. News and World Report, June 2, 2011

June 3, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Capitalism, Conservatives, Consumers, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Financial Institutions, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Privatization: The Road To Hell

Billionaires are different from you and me, for obvious reasons, including the fact that they buy much pricier baubles than we do.

A sleek car costing $100,000? Why, for them, that’s just an easy impulse purchase. A few million bucks for a Matisse original? Go ahead — it’ll liven up the hallway. How about throwing a fat wad of cash at a university to get an academic chair named for you? Sure, it’s all part of the fun of living in BillionaireLand.

Then there is the top crust of the upper-crust — such megalomaniacal megabillionaires as the Koch brothers. Using money from their industrial conglomerate, their foundation and their personal fortunes, these two far-out, laissez-faire extremists are literally buying public policy. Their purchases of everything from politicians to the tea party help them push the privatization of all things public and the elimination of pesky regulations and taxes that crimp their style.

To advance their plutocratic privatization cause, brother Charles has even gone on a shopping spree for an invaluable bauble that most of us didn’t even know was for sale: academic freedom. And it’s surprisingly cheap!

For only $1.5 million, Koch bought a big chunk of the economics department of Florida State University a couple of years ago. His donation gives him control of a new “academic” program at this public institution to indoctrinate students in his self-serving political theories.

The billionaire gets to screen all applicants, veto any he deems insufficiently ideological, and sign off on all new hires. Also, the department head must submit yearly reports to Koch about the faculty’s speeches, publications and classes, and he evaluates the faculty based on “objectives” that he sets.

Charles has made similar purchases of academic freedom at two other state universities, Clemson and West Virginia. Also, in a May 20 piece at Alternet.org, investigative researcher Lee Fang reveals that Koch has paid $419,000 to buy into Brown University’s “political theory project,” $3.6 million to establish Troy University’s “center for political economy” and $700,000 for a piece of Utah State’s Huntsman School of Business, which now has the “Charles G.
Koch Professor of Political Economy.”

Imagine the screams of outrage we’d hear from the Kochs if a labor union were doing this.

A recent article in The Onion, the satirical newsweekly, printed a downsize-big-government spoof that Charles and David would love to turn into reality. The parody disclosed that President Obama had come up with a surefire plan to balance the federal budget: Rob Fort Knox! “I’ve got the blueprints,” Obama is quoted as saying, “and I think I found a way out through a drainage pipe.”

Unfortunately, with today’s political climate dominated by howling winds from the far-right fringe, there’s no longer any room in American culture for satire. Sure enough, some laissez-faire extremists at such Koch-funded corporate fronts as Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation are presently howling for the government to sell all of America’s gold stored in Fort Knox. Noting that we have billions worth of bullion in the vaults, a fellow from Heritage made this keen observation: “It’s just sort of sitting there.”

Uh, yeah, professor. Like Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, the Lincoln Memorial and other national assets — being there is the point.

Yet these ivory tower ideologues are using the current brouhaha over the budget deficit as an opening to push their loopiest fantasies of selling off all of America’s public properties, facilities, systems and treasures to create a no-government, plutocratic paradise. Just spread our public goods out on tables, like a flea market from hell, and invite the global rich to buy it all.

For example, a fellow from another Koch-funded front, the American Enterprise Institute, observes that the government could raise billions of dollars to retire that pesky deficit simply by selling our interstate highway system. Americans would then have to pay tolls forever to the corporate owners, but hey, he exclaims, remember that tolls “work for the River Styx, why not the Beltway?”

What a perfect metaphor for privatization! In ancient mythology, dead souls must pay a toll to be ferried across the River Styx and enter the depths of hell.

By: Jim Hightower, CommonDreams.org/Creators.com, May 25, 2011

May 25, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Koch Brothers, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Tea Party, Unions, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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