Saturday, August 6, 2011

Where would we be without God?

Thanks to Atheist Cartoons.

New Expose Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Efford to Replace Unionized Workers with Prison Labor

Thanks to Heather from Crooks & Liars for this important post!

From Democracy Now, more on the latest coming from ALEC thanks to the good work being done by The Nation's Mike Elk -- New Exposé Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Effort to Replace Unionized Workers with Prison Labor:

Many of the toughest sentencing laws responsible for the explosion of the U.S. prison population were drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps corporations write model legislation. Now a new exposé reveals ALEC has paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor. We speak with Mike Elk, contributing labor reporter at The Nation magazine. He says ALEC and private prison companies "put a mass amount of people in jail, and then they created a situation where they could exploit that." Elk notes that in 2005 more than 14 million pounds of beef infected with rat feces processed by inmates were not recalled, in order to avoid drawing attention to how many products are made by prison labor.

As Susie already noted in her post that's up now, you can read Mike Elk and Mark Ames article at The Nation here -- The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor.

Full transcript below the fold.

AMY GOODMAN: "The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor" is our next segment. Lisa Graves, of the Center for Media and Democracy, in New Orleans. I wanted to turn now to the article I just referenced, which begins: "The breaded chicken patty your child bites into at school may have been made by a worker earning twenty cents an hour, not in a faraway country, but by a member of an invisible American workforce: prisoners."

Mike Elk is our next guest. He’s a contributing editor to The Nation magazine and has done this exposé with Bob Sloan in The Nation.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Continue on this story.

MIKE ELK: So, one of the—by far, one of the most perverse effects that ALEC has had on American society is the dramatic increase in the amount of prisoners incarcerated in this country. In 1980, there were only a half a million people incarcerated in this country. Now that number has quadrupled to nearly 2.4 million. One out of every 100 American adults is in prison, the majority of them for nonviolent drug offenses. You know, the United States has four percent of the world’s population, but yet we have 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in this country. And a big part of the reason for that is ALEC. Starting in the 1980s, ALEC, with the sponsorship of, you know, the Corrections Corporation of America—

AMY GOODMAN: And let me just remind people, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council.

MIKE ELK: Yeah, ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, started passing bills in individual states to privatize prisons. So now, state—there’s prison companies that could make money by keeping people in prisons. So then ALEC—what they did after that was they got states to pass tougher drug laws, tougher laws that would put prisoners away for a long time. In fact, one of the first bills introduced in 1995, by then-Wisconsin State Representative Scott Walker, was an ALEC bill, where he cited ALEC statistics, and he was an ALEC member, where he drew his inspiration. So they put a mass amount of people in jail, and then they created a situation where they could exploit that.

And now what we’re seeing is the incredible rise of prison labor, where you have prisoners making as much as 20 cents an hour, making everything from the electronic components in guided missiles, that are being used in Libya, to breaded chicken patties that your children are eating at school, to, in fact, maybe even these office chairs we’re sitting in now. We have over 100,000 prisoners employed, working for private corporations. And before the 1990s and ALEC, this did not occur in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip of the interview that Terry Gross of NPR did with the ALEC chair, Noble Ellington, for an example of legislation that was introduced and passed recently in state legislatures based on model legislation drafted by ALEC members. Noble Ellington mentioned legislation on prison reform.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: Well, they may start out in cooperation together, the corporations and the ALEC members. They may start out together, but only—only legislative members approve model legislation, not the private sector advisory board. And yes, in—and I’ll give you Louisiana. This year, working with the Pew Foundation, we introduced some legislation working on prison reform, trying to stop recidivism and make the time that the prisoners have to serve, attempt to shorten that.

AMY GOODMAN: Noble Ellington, the chair of ALEC, on Terry Gross’s program on NPR. Mike Elk, your response?

MIKE ELK: Well, the response now is, there are so many states that are looking to get prisoners out of prison, because it’s expensive. So what happened is, ALEC found another sponsor that could make money off of getting prisoners out of prison. So what ALEC wants to do now is reform the parole system in this country, privatize it. So now prisoners have to put up bond, with private bail bond companies that are owned by big Wall Street firms, where they have to pay outrageous fees in order to get out of prison. And this is something that we haven’t seen before.

So, ALEC, no matter the issue, can find a corporate sponsor. Look, for example, at the Arizona immigration law. My colleague at In These Times, Beau Hodai, showed that ALEC arranged meetings between the Corrections Corporation of America and the Arizona state legislators sponsoring the anti-immigration bill, because having more immigrants detained means more prisons. So, on just about any issue, ALEC can find a way that there’s a corporate partner that can profit off of it.

AMY GOODMAN: If you were at the conference in New Orleans right now, what would you be asking?

MIKE ELK: I would be asking, why are so many corporations, you know, turning to prison labor, of all things? You know, it’s become incredible in this country. You know, you see so many corporations now that going to China isn’t cheap enough anymore. You know, it’s expensive to ship stuff across seas. So they’re coming to the only source of labor that isn’t more expensive than China, which is U.S. prison population. Why are they doing that? Why is ALEC keeping so many people in prison that could be doing something more productive? We spend $60 billion a year in this country keeping people in prison. And having a captive labor workforce that corporations can profit from is just going to make it tougher to have prison reform in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the issue of prison labor versus union labor?

MIKE ELK: Well, as we saw already in Wisconsin, you see now prison labor replacing, you know, unionized public workers, where the prison labor, you know, working in road crews in Racine, Wisconsin, is not getting paid anything. So we’re seeing that come in. We’re seeing factories close down in this country that were employing unionized prison labor, and instead we’re now shifting to prison labor. For instance, in the state of Florida, the largest printing company is Prison Industries. So, now there’s not even a market anymore. So we’re seeing increasingly American workers having to not compete just against Chinese labor that’s forced and exploited, but forced and exploited labor in this own country.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, we have to break, and then we’re going to go back to another story in New Orleans, but we’ve just been talking about the processing of meat. Talk about the story from 2005 around prisoners and meat.

MIKE ELK: My co-author, Bob Sloan, who’s an ex-offender, who actually worked in Prison Industries and has dedicated his life to unveiling, you know, the tragedy of Prison Industries, showed how ATL Industries, back in 2005, had 14 million pounds of beef that they knew was infected with rat feces. Now, many people raised the alarms, and they were even trying to pressure ATL Industries to recall the beef. However, the USDA wouldn’t let them recall the beef, even through a voluntary recall, because they didn’t want to draw attention to how much meat and how many other products in this country are being made by prison labor. So, we have an industry, prison labor, for example, in '95, the U.S. government passed a law, the federal government, that now the regulating body for Prison Industries is not the Department Justice, but the National Correctional Industries Association. This is sort of like turning over bank regulation to the American Bankers Association. So we're seeing an industry that’s basically completely unregulated and poses a great threat, not just to American workers, but to the mouths and health of, you know, American children and adults.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike Elk, I want to thank you very much for being with us, contributing editor at The Nation magazine, exposé in The Nation called "The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor." We’ll link to it at

The spin doctor

Thanks to Atheist Cartoons.

Jesus, Rick Perry, Jackasses, Braying

Bray:  The loud, harsh cry of a donkey.

Today's the day!  It is the day of The Response, "an evangelical day of prayer and fasting seeking divine intervention for America."

Rick Perry, the jackass governor of Texas, has called this gathering.  He has invited other governors of the various states to join him in this quite incredible violation of the United States Constitution.  Perry wrote:

"I sincerely hope you'll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God's forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation.  There is hope for America.  It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees."

No, you're not living in the 16th century.  It just seems like it.  Not a few people around the world have been "progressing" backward.  God, heaven, prayer - all are aspects of a futile mythology that has ill-served the people of earth for untold generations!  But the governor of the state of Texas doesn't get it.  He's a "believer."

Not only so but this "call to prayer" is without question a "Christian" event.  More than that, it is an "evangelical" Christian event.  Mainstream Christians, Roman Catholics, Unitarians, and other "fringe" groups should stay home, thank you very much.  Non-Christians?  Fuggedaboudit!

And an event like this, of course, constitutes an "official" recognition of a religion by the state, which is expressly forbidden in the U.S. Constitution.  Not that that makes any difference to the likes of Perry and his ilk.  They are quite upfront about their desire and intention to remake the United States into their version of a "Christian" nation, the Constitution be damned!

Then, there's the question of the efficacy of prayer.  Numerous studies have been done dealing with whether or not prayer is effective.  The answer has been emphatically "No!"  In fact, if sick people know they are being prayed for, they become even sicker.  The evangelical right have been on their collective knees for years bemoaning what they consider the immoral and unchristian policies of these United States - the disallowing of prayer/evangelizing in public schools, their inability to erect copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses, the legality of abortion, stem-cell research, the sale of contraceptives, blah, blah, blah.  But nothing's happened!  You would think they'd conclude that either God doesn't give a damn or he/she doesn't exist.  Not so.  The jackasses conclude they need to pray/bray harder.  In public.

But another question also arises:  why the hell does Perry care about any of this?  He's not a lover of our nation.  He doesn't much like our Constitution.  He hates the federal government.   He's even threatened to take his beloved Texas and secede from the Union!

It appears that Perry, like Palin and Bachmann and other stupid goofballs who are too dumb to know they are too dumb to hold any public office, thinks he has been sent by God to turn this country into a right-wing religious freakshow.

If there really were a god, Perry would have been struck down by a lightning bolt a long time ago!

It appears that Perry and his friends on the religious right either do not read their beloved New Testament or they read it, don't like what it says, and thus ignore it.

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), the writers have fancied and created a legendary Jesus much different than that proclaimed by the religious right or the politicians who claim to have Jesus on their side.

The Synoptic Gospels tell us of a Jesus who had nothing to say about homosexuality, capitalism, abortion, debt-ceilings, or balanced budgets, but who did make inflammatory and hateful comments like "feed the poor; love your neighbor; forgive your enemy; take care of the foreigner and the immigrant; visit those in prison, don't pray in public!" and this really reactionary and subversive command - "pay your taxes!"

So, in Houston on this August 6, 2011, we will have a large group of jackasses who don't want to follow Jesus, but rather, having recreated Jesus in their own image, gather in Reliant Stadium to pray to their imaginary Jesus in the hopes that Jesus/God will intervene to correct all the terrible mistakes these jackasses have made in his name so they don't have to get their own hands dirty by actually doing what Jesus said to do!

All of which means, we have, in Houston today, a large group of jackasses who have come together to bray!

Note:  As of August 3, only 8,000 people had signed up online for this jackass event.  The stadium holds over 50,000.  Thus, it is not quite the response that Perry, the pompous, pious, jackass governor of Texas was hoping for. 

But prayer isn't what this event is all about.  It was planned in order to give Perry national exposure and make him credible as a GOP candidate for president among the teapot crackpots and other far-right christianist members of the Repugnican Party!

And here is a link to an article detailing the creepy religious folks who stand in the shadows of Perry and this event.

Update and correction:  According to an article at the Huffington Post, about 30,000 people attended this Houston brayer event.  The stadium seats over 71,000.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Congressional Reform Act of 2011

[Photo from]

Once in a blue moon I get something via email that is worth a second look.  A friend sent me a piece about amending our Constitution in such a way as to make Congress more representative of and more responsive to the needs of the people.  I do not know the author.

This is supposed to be a country of the people, by the people and for the people.  The Constitution begins with the phrase, "We the People of the United States..."

Unfortunately, we have become a country of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.  The rich and the powerful rule.  Ironically, the teapot crackpots, who supposedly represent the "common" folks are funded and directed by such as the Koch brothers who have turned the so-called tea party movement into a corporate ploy to destroy both the national and state governments in order to seek even greater riches unimpeded by nasty laws against such things as bad products and pollution of the environment!

Two disclaimers first:

1)  There is no tea party.  The teapot crackpots do not comprise a political party.  They are simply the far right wing of the Republican Party.  The fact that they exist and that a number of them were elected to Congress is an indication as to how far the Republican Party has shifted toward the right in recent years.

2)  We must reject the false equivalence of Republicans and Democrats!  During the recent wholly-contrived debt-ceiling controversy, the media has created a false equivalence between Republicans and Democrats, treating both parties as if they were equally responsible for the breakdown of responsible government.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Unfortunately, there are some Democrats in Congress who are just as crazy and stupid as the Republicans, but the Republican Party as a whole has given up on governing and exists simply to maintain and increase its power in order to use the government for its own purposes which most often means breaking down the legitimate authority of the government in order to rid corporate power of any restrictions as it amasses ever more wealth.  The Republican Party has lost its soul.  The Republican Party will do literally anything, including rewriting the Constitution to maintain and increase its power.  When the Republican Party talks about the "commonwealth," it refers not to regular folks but to the rich and powerful!   There is no "common" in the Republican commonwealth!

While the teapot crackpots and other Republicans pretend to be concerned about the financial status of the country (e.g., the deficit), that's a smokescreen.  In fact, their actions, in every case, increase the deficit.  The debt-ceiling compromise will increase the debt substantially.  The failure of the Republicans in Congress to deal with the FAA controllers will have the same result.  In the latter case, the Republicans are trying to defeat unionization.

What can be done?

Someone or some group has come up with a suggestion called the Congressional Reform Act of 2011.  I agree with most of what this act (or Constitutional amendment) would accomplish.  The verbiage and grammar have not been changed.  My comments are contained in the parentheses.

Here are the provisions:

1.  No Tenure/No Pension.  A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

[I'm not sure that Congresspersons have "tenure" as tenure is usually understood.  They are elected for a specific term and then must run for office again.  I agree with the "no pension" clause because of what follows below.]

2.  Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.  All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system and Congress participates with the American people.  It may not be used for any other purpose.

[Yes!  No pensions for those who serve in Congress.  All men and women in Congress are placed into the Social Security system just as regular citizens.  Especially important is the mandate that Social Security funds are never to be used for any other purpose!]

3.  Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

[Obviously, "all Americans" don't purchase their own retirement plan.  But they are responsible for planning for their own retirement.  Social Security was never intended to provide all the funds necessary for retirement.  Regular folks must see they have sufficient funds beyond what they receive from Social Security.  And so should anyone who is serving or who has served in Congress.]

4.  Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.  Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

[I wouldn't want to get into a debate here on the amount of Congressional pay raises, but I agree that members of Congress should not be able to raise their own pay, but that it should be tied to some financial index, perhaps the same as Social Security.]

5.  Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

[This is most important.  If this should pass, we would have an excellent comprehensive health plan for all Americans in no time at all!  I'm also in favor of the people voting for or against all of the other "perks" that Congress has established for its members down through the years!]

6.  Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

[I think this is true now and may be superfluous.]

7.  All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/12.  The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves  Serving in Congress in an honor, not a career.  The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

[I'm a little confused by the meaning of this provision, or to which "contracts" it refers.  If it's speaking of any special favors members of Congress have voted themselves, I agree.  If it refers to lifelong pensions and health benefits for someone who served in Congress a mere two years, I agree.  From what I've seen, members of Congress are treated as kings and queens, as if they are different somehow than the rest of us with an incredible number of "perks."  All that should change!]

At the moment the Congress of the United States is out of control.  Our system of checks-and-balances is threatened.  It is frightening to note how many truly ignorant and stupid people are serving in Congress.  Many of them do not "believe" in evolution or in global warming!  My God, these things aren't up for debate!  They're not a matter of "belief"!  Many of our members of Congress are religious freaks, and operate from a religious ideology that belongs in the Dark Ages!  And these people have the power to destroy our country!  The fact that people like Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin are given any credibility at all is beyond comprehension.  In any sane world, they would be objects of ridicule!

Change is needed.  Maybe a Constitutional amendment incorporating provisions like the ones above is the way to go.

Let the debate begin!

Thursday, August 4, 2011