DEAR BUBBAS AND BUBBETTES,

We look rather trapped right now into several months of increasing Hollywood-style noise about elites, exploitation, betraying traditions, etc, etc. And then we are supposed to vote for someone. Good grief!!

Well, what exactly are/were those traditions, and how has anything really changed in the last couple of centuries?

Here are a few nibbles to enjoy.  Take care,  Andy

AMERICA’S PLUTOCRATIC-TRADITIONS

Some voters are in disbelief that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would raise taxes on the poor and the middle class in order to reduce them even more on the rich. But government strategies favoring the rich date back to the origins of the Republic, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar, ConsortiumNews, 6 August 2012. Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies.

I recently read a book by University of Maryland historian Terry Bouton, “Taming Democracy”, which is an account of the intense struggles over wealth and power that emerged in the earliest days of the United States. Bouton’s detailed research was focused on Pennsylvania, but he describes patterns that also appeared elsewhere in the infant republic.

The core of the story he tells is that the colonial coalition that made possible the political break with Britain fractured even while the Revolutionary War was still in progress, as wealthy interests in the colonies quickly had second thoughts about the democratic fervor that they had helped to set in motion and how it might jeopardize their ability to amass still more wealth.



Robert Morris Jr., a Pennsylvania financier who signed America's founding documents.

Those interests then devoted themselves to implementing public policies aimed at protecting and promoting the wealth of the moneyed class, and to structuring politics and government in a way that — per the title of Bouton’s book — prevented the more numerous members of lower classes from overturning those policies.

The story demonstrates that strong class consciousness and class-specific drivers of policy have been a major part of American politics since independence. A key part of that class struggle all along has been a strong sense among a wealthy elite of separateness from the non-wealthy, and of having a right to push hard for public policies that favor their own class even if they are clearly detrimental to others.

A major figure in Bouton’s account is the Philadelphia merchant and financier Robert Morris. Morris certainly has a good claim to being considered a Founding Father; he was one of only two persons (Roger Sherman of Connecticut was the other) to have signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and U.S. Constitution.

Morris also vigorously promoted policies that favored the financial interests of people like himself while adding to the economic difficulties of his less advantaged fellow Pennsylvanians. One of his major projects was the first privately owned bank in the United States, the Bank of North America.

As Morris envisioned it, the bank would be the sole issuer of currency in the state, a function it would perform in the same extremely tight-money way that had gotten Pennsylvanians literally up in arms against the British, and that favored the interests of creditors over those of debtors.

Morris and his fellow share-holders in the bank used their political clout to prevent competition from any additional new banks, public or private. The paper currency that the bank issued did not come close to meeting the broader public monetary needs in the first years of independence.

It circulated mostly among merchants and government contractors, and the smallest denomination ($20) was too large for the average American of the day to acquire. Morris didn’t care. He wrote to Alexander Hamilton, “If my notes circulate only among mercantile people, I do not regret it but rather wish that the circulation may for the present be confined to them and to the wealthier members of other professions.”

An even more blatant ploy of using government to favor his own class’ interests at the expense of others concerned speculation in war debt. Amid poverty, scarcity of money, and uncertainty about government funding of debt, many holders of IOUs — who had furnished support to the war effort ranging from food to blacksmithing — sold them for cents on the dollar to speculators who hoped to redeem them eventually for much more than that.

Morris not only participated in this game but openly promoted it. He told the Continental Congress in 1782 that speculators should be encouraged to buy up the IOUs “at a considerable discount” and then have the government bring the pieces of paper “back to existence” by paying them off at top dollar.

This big transfer of wealth would provide the affluent with “those funds which are necessary to the full exercise of their skill and industry.” Bouton writes, “As Morris saw it, taking money from ordinary taxpayers to fund a huge windfall for war debt speculators was exactly the kind of thing that needed to be done to make America great.”

We have tended to whitewash such aspects of American history from our consciousness, for several reasons. One is the hagiography we customarily apply to the Founding Fathers. Another is that we lose sight of the connections between class consciousness of the past and that of today by euphemizing today’s version and espousing more subtle notions of trickle-down economics than the crude version that Morris espoused.

People of his economic stratum were known at the time as “gentlemen”; today they would more likely be called “job creators.” A further reason is Americans’ belief in the national myth that America is less stratified into classes, and exhibits more mobility between classes, than do other countries and especially the old countries of Europe. That myth has become increasingly distant from fact has become increasingly distant from fact in recent decades.

Morris demonstrated how there was more potential for downward mobility in his time than in ours. Leveraged commitments he made as a land speculator fell through when the Panic of 1797 and the drying up of foreign investors’ money because of European wars caused land prices to collapse. Morris lost his fortune and spent three years in debtors’ prison.

His present-day counterparts who make similarly large losing bets are not thrown into debtors’ prison, regardless of the broader consequences of their bets. Instead they are likely to live comfortably on previously stashed away bonuses, carried interest, and other winnings.

One of the most noticed of the economically driven domestic conflicts in the early days of the republic was the anti-tax resistance centered in western Pennsylvania in the early 1790s that became known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

Hamilton may have regarded his levy on booze as a sin tax and thus as an acceptable way to fund the debt that the new federal government had assumed, but that is not how the tax-resisting common people in rural Pennsylvania saw it. For them whiskey was not just a drink but a form in which to economically market their grain and even a medium of exchange — a substitute for money in what were still extreme tight-money times.

The structure of the tax also favored larger distillers in eastern cities over the smaller farmer-producers in the West. The Whiskey Rebellion tends to get treated in textbooks today as a landmark in establishing the authority of the fledgling federal government.

But it was first and foremost class warfare — as was the forceful response to it, which was cheered on by well-to-do gentry anxious to quash what they regarded as a democratic threat to their class’s economic position.

Today “class warfare” gets hurled as an epithet against political opponents, but class warfare — waged by classes above as well as ones below — has a long history in America.

THE MOBILITY MYTH

Why everyone overestimates American equality of opportunity.

Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 8 February 2012.

Timothy Noah is a senior editor at The New Republic and the author of the forthcoming book “The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It” (Bloomsbury), from which this article is adapted. This article appeared in the March 1, 2012 issue of the magazine.

When Americans express indifference about the problem of unequal incomes, it’s usually because they see the United States as a land of boundless opportunity. Sure, you’ll hear it said, our country has pretty big income disparities compared with Western Europe. And sure, those disparities have been widening in recent decades. But stark economic inequality is the price we pay for living in a dynamic economy with avenues to advancement that the class-bound Old World can only dream about. We may have less equality of economic outcomes, but we have a lot more equality of economic opportunity.

The problem is, this isn’t true. Most of Western Europe today is both more equal in incomes and more economically mobile than the United States. And it isn’t just Western Europe. Countries as varied as Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Pakistan all have higher degrees of income mobility than we do. A nation that prides itself on its lack of class rigidity has, in short, become significantly more economically rigid than many other developed countries. How did our perception of ourselves end up so far out of sync with reality?

IN THE 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that, in notable contrast to the “aristocratic nations” of Europe, the United States was a place where “new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition.” Karl Marx sounded a similar note in 1865 when he observed that “the position of wages laborer is for a very large part of the American people but a probational state, which they are sure to leave within a longer or shorter term.” But it was two American writers who probably did the most to shape our country’s self-image as the land of unbounded opportunity. They were Horatio Alger, of whom you’ve probably heard, and James Truslow Adams, of whom you probably haven’t. When Alger and Adams were alive—and also, for that matter, when Tocqueville and Marx contributed their observations—American opportunity was a much closer match to their superlatives than it is now.

Alger wrote Ragged Dick (1868), Luck and Pluck (1869), and other dime novels for boys about getting ahead through virtue and hard work. To call these books popular would be an understatement; fully 5 percent of all the books checked out of the Muncie, Indiana, public library between November 1891 and December 1902 were authored by Alger. Adams was a more cerebral fellow who wrote books of American history. His influence stems from the fact that one of these books—The Epic of America (1931)—introduced the phrase “the American dream” to our national discourse. Writing at the start of the Great Depression, Adams envisioned not “a dream of motor cars and high wages merely,” but rather “a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

Born half a century apart, neither Alger nor Adams could claim to have risen from the bottom. Both came from well-established families whose American roots dated to the early seventeenth century. Alger could trace his lineage to three Pilgrims who in 1621 sailed to Plymouth Plantation on the Fortune, the second English ship to arrive there. Adams—no relation to the presidential Adamses—was descended from a man who arrived in Maryland in 1638 as an indentured servant and, within three years, possessed 185 acres. Alger’s father was a Unitarian minister; Adams’s a stockbroker. Both fathers were men of good breeding and education who struggled to make ends meet but were able—at a time when more than 90 percent of the population didn’t finish high school—to obtain higher education for their sons. Alger went to Harvard; Adams went to Brooklyn Polytechnic and, briefly, Yale. Both sons followed their fathers into the ministry and finance, respectively, before they became full-time writers.

Each author was, in his own way, highly successful, but the upward trajectory of these two literary careers would make poor material for a Horatio Alger tale. The circumstances of Alger’s job change are especially problematic. At 34, he vacated the pulpit abruptly when he was charged with “the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys.” Alger did not dispute the accusation, which was based on the testimony of two teenage boys in his parish, ages 13 and 15, who said Alger had molested them and on rumors that he’d abused other youths in similar fashion. After confessing his guilt privately to William James, the founding father of American psychology, Alger never spoke of it again. Adams left Wall Street under less lurid circumstances. He simply disliked the work and resolved to stop once he amassed $100,000. Reviewing his accounts on his thirty-fifth birthday, he concluded that he’d achieved his goal—the equivalent of about $2 million in current dollars—and resigned the following day. Adams spent much of his subsequent life abroad and wrote The Epic of America in London.

Alger and Adams celebrated America’s capacity for upward mobility, but neither writer idealized his country to anything like the extent that would later be credited to the name Horatio Alger and the phrase “the American dream.” Alger worked into his later juvenile fiction much moralizing against the robber barons’ self-dealing and cruel treatment of the downtrodden. “He has done more harm than he can ever repair,” a character in Alger’s 1889 novel, Luke Walton, laments about a villain modeled on the Gilded Age stock manipulator Jay Gould. Adams deplored America’s tendency to celebrate “business and money-making and material improvement as good in themselves” and its refusal “to look on the seamy and sordid realities of any situation in which we found ourselves.” He even complained about America’s maldistribution of wealth. Still, neither writer had much taste for radical politics. Alger was essentially a mugwump—a good-government Republican distrustful of machine politics and Free Silver populism. Adams was a Tory-minded political independent who became a severe critic of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which he deemed financially irresponsible.

Both men bequeathed to the United States an exaggerated notion of itself as a mobile society because they lived during the peak years of American mobility—the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, when the American industrial revolution was wreaking maximum creative destruction on what had previously been an agrarian economy. The best way to measure mobility is to calculate the economic position of an individual relative to the rest of society and compare that with the economic position of that person’s child relative to the rest of society once that child has grown to a comparable stage in life. To calculate mobility for society as a whole, you therefore need income data over two generations for a large sample of American families. The government, alas, didn’t collect income data during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Census Bureau did collect data on occupations, which can serve as a rough proxy.

In a 2005 paper, Joseph Ferrie, an economics professor at Northwestern, studied census records about the occupations of fathers and sons between 1850 (the year Alger turned 18) and 1920 (21 years after Alger’s death and the year Adams turned 42). Ferrie then compared these records with father-son data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the second half of the twentieth century. He divided everyone into four categories: “unskilled worker,” “farmer,” “skilled or semi-skilled worker,” and “white-collar worker.” To keep both data sets consistent, he limited his inquiry to white, native-born males. Ferrie also made some technical adjustments to allow for the different occupational structures of the two eras. What he found was that the equivalent of 41 percent of farmers’ sons advanced to white-collar jobs between 1880 and 1900, compared with 32 percent between 1950 and 1973. Ferrie’s conclusion held up when he looked at all four job categories and when he compared other stretches of the late nineteenth century with other stretches of the late twentieth. Between the horse-and-buggy days and the interstate-highway era, American society had become significantly less mobile.

These findings are all the more striking because the 1950s and 1960s were a period—the last period in the United States, it turned out—when intergenerational mobility was increasing. The economy was booming, and men born during the Great Depression and World War II were enjoying opportunities that their fathers could scarcely imagine. Even so, mobility in this postwar era was no match for the mobility enjoyed by the generations of workers who lived during Alger’s lifetime and James Adams’s youth and early adulthood.

Adams wrote in The Epic of America that the dream of living “unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in older civilizations” was “realized more fully in actual life [in the United States] than anywhere else.” Was this a fantasy? Probably not at the time Adams was writing. Ferrie and Jason Long, an associate professor of economics at Colby College, looked at mobility during the late nineteenth century in both the United States and Great Britain. At that time, England was still the richest industrial country in the world. But it offered nothing like the opportunities for economic advancement that were available in its former colony. In Britain, for example, 53 percent of the sons of unskilled laborers moved up to skilled and semi-skilled labor or better. In the United States, fully 81 percent did. This was an era when the loftiest rhetoric about the United States as the land of opportunity rang true.

AS RECENTLY AS 1987, economists could still be heard vouching for American mobility. In a speech that year to the American Economic Association, the University of Chicago economist Gary Becker, a future Nobel laureate, said, “In every country with data that I have seen, ... low earnings as well as high earnings are not strongly transmitted from fathers to sons.” Five years later, Gary Solon, an economist at the University of Michigan, would blow Becker’s assertion to smithereens—at least as it applied to the United States.

To measure economic mobility effectively, you need access to good longitudinal data on families and income. Until fairly recently, the pickings were slim. But, by 1992, the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), a longitudinal study of more than 9,000 families from across the United States, had reached its 24-year mark and ripened into an unmatched source for detailed information on two successive American generations. Now old enough to include data on three or four generations, the PSID is the world’s longest-running “panel survey” of nationally representative households. (A panel survey is a longitudinal study in which respondents are interviewed at regular intervals.) Most contemporary studies of mobility trends in the United States make use of PSID data.

Solon’s groundbreaking 1992 paper, which drew on this newly available data, upended our understanding of something that economists call “intergenerational income elasticity” but that I’ll call “income heritability.” It’s a measure of how determinative one generation’s relative income status—what we used to call “station in life”—will be of the next generation’s relative income status. When Becker stated in 1987 that income status wasn’t especially heritable, he was working off studies that showed income heritability to be less than 20 percent, which didn’t seem too bad. Eighty percent of your economic destiny was in your hands—or at least out of your parents’ hands.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the following lines from William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” an oft-quoted inspirational poem from the nineteenth century: “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” In 1987, it was possible for Americans to believe, with respect to income: I am the master of 80 percent of my fate: I am the captain of 80 percent of my soul. But, in 1992, when Solon recalculated income heritability based on the more-reliable PSID data, he found income heritability to be at least 40 percent “and possibly higher.” I am the master of 60 percent of my fate.

Or possibly: I am the master of 40 to 50 percent of my fate. In 2001, Bhashkar Mazumder, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, recalculated income heritability matching census data to Social Security data, which allowed him to compare parent-child incomes over a greater number of years. He found that income heritability was more like 50 to 60 percent. Mazumder later recalculated Solon’s PSID-based findings applying a more sophisticated statistical model and found that income heritability was about 60 percent. Then, in a 2004 study, Mazumder approached the question from a different angle, examining the correlation in incomes among siblings, using longitudinal survey data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That put income heritability at about 50 percent. “The sibling correlation in economic outcomes and human capital are larger than the sibling correlation in a variety of other outcomes including some measures of physical attributes,” Mazumder wrote. Most strikingly, he found that income among brothers actually correlated more closely than height and weight. I am less the master of my fate than I am of my body mass index.

It’s important to remember that the mobility trend for Americans as a whole is not necessarily a trend for every U.S. subgroup. For instance, upward mobility for women has accelerated in recent decades. The trend can be hard to track in intergenerational family income data because, while a contemporary woman will likely outearn her mother, who lived at a time when society provided far fewer economic opportunities to women, she won’t likely outearn her father, who faced no gender barriers at all. At the same time, upward mobility for African Americans has lagged behind upward mobility for whites.

One especially disturbing 2008 analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Julia Isaacs compared PSID income data from parents in the late ’60s with PSID income data from their children in the late ’90s. Isaacs found that only 31 percent of black children born into the middle fifth of family incomes—dead center of the middle class, where incomes (in 2006 dollars) ranged from about $49,000 to $65,000—ended up with higher incomes than their parents had, corrected for inflation. Fully 45 percent fell all the way to the bottom-income fifth (below about $40,000). By comparison, 68 percent of whites born into the middle-income fifth ended up with incomes higher than their parents had, and only 16 percent tumbled all the way to the bottom-income fifth. Where these white parents mostly saw their children become better off economically than they had been, corresponding black parents mostly saw their children become worse off.

In the United States, economic mobility is lower than it was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it is no longer accelerating, as it was during the ’50s and ’60s; and it is either about the same or a little lower than it was in 1970. “Personally,” Brookings economist Isabel Sawhill told me in an interview last year, “I believe that it has slipped.”

MEANWHILE, mobility in the United States has fallen dramatically behind mobility in other comparably developed democracies. A 2007 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) combined a number of previous estimates and found income heritability to be greater in the United States than in Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and France. Italy was a little bit less mobile than the United States. The United Kingdom, which had been far less mobile than the United States during the late nineteenth century, brought up the rear, but this time it was just a bit less mobile than the United States. The OECD’s ranking was based on a somewhat conservative U.S. estimate of 47 percent income heritability; Mazumder of the Chicago Fed puts it at 50 to 60 percent, which would rank the United States either tied with the United Kingdom for last place or dead last after the United Kingdom. Thanks to a 2012 recalculation by Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, we can now add Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and Pakistan to the list of societies that are more mobile than the United States. (Italy and the United Kingdom were once again found to be less mobile than the United States, along with Chile, Brazil, Peru, and China.)

It’s especially striking that Canada should experience more intergenerational economic mobility than the United States. The two countries are, after all, similar in more ways than one can count. The most significant way they differ (at least for the purposes of this discussion) is that the United States is richer, with a per capita gross domestic product that’s 20 percent higher. Most migration between the two is from Canada to the United States, not the other way around. How can Canada be the land of greater opportunity?

The University of Ottawa’s Corak looked at this puzzle in a 2010 paper. Examining several existing mobility studies “using particularly high-quality data,” Corak found that Canada is “up to three times more mobile than the United States.” The difference arises largely from disparities at the top and bottom 10 percent of the income scale. If a father is in the bottom tenth of U.S. incomes, Corak found, his son has a 22 percent likelihood of ending up in the bottom tenth. If a father is in Canada’s bottom tenth, his son’s likelihood of ending up in the bottom tenth is 16 percent. At the other end of the income scale, if a father is in the top tenth of U.S. incomes, his son has a 26 percent chance of ending up in the top tenth. If a father is in Canada’s top-income tenth, his son’s likelihood of ending up in the top tenth is 18 percent.

A crowning irony is that, even though Canada is demonstrably more economically mobile than the United States, Americans are less likely to believe that their chance of financial success depends on their parents’ incomes (42 percent) than are Canadians (57 percent), according to a 2009 poll sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Indeed, when a survey of 27 nations conducted from 1998 to 2001 asked participants whether they believed that “people are rewarded for intelligence and skill,” the country with the highest proportion answering in the affirmative was the United States (69 percent), compared with a median among all other countries of about 40 percent. Similarly, more than 60 percent of Americans agreed that “people get rewarded for their effort,” compared with an international median of less than 40 percent. When participants were asked whether coming from a wealthy family was “essential” or “very important” to getting ahead, the percentage of American affirmatives was much lower than the international median: 19 percent versus 28 percent.

Perhaps there is a benefit to lacking a realistic understanding about your odds of improving your relative position in society. It is, James Fallows argues in his 1989 book, More Like Us: Making America Great Again, a major driver of the U.S. economy. Paraphrasing the Harvard psychologist David McClelland’s 1961 book, The Achieving Society, Fallows writes that a society in which “people routinely overestimated their chances for success,” in which entrepreneurs “launched ventures that by rational standards were likely to fail,” was a society that, collectively and over the long term, would invent more, innovate more, and succeed more. Society benefits when people don’t know “their place.”

A more jaundiced view of America’s obdurate belief that we are all masters of our fate is expressed in Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2009 book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. What if you don’t achieve your most unrealistic goals, as most of us won’t? “[A]lways,” Ehrenreich writes, “in a hissed undertone, there is the darker message that if you don’t have all that you want, if you feel sick, discouraged, or defeated, you have only yourself to blame.” The American reluctance to regard disappointing outcomes as anything other than failed personal agency, Ehrenreich argues, is not only painful to the spirit; it is also an obstacle to constructive forms of collective action, such as forming a labor union or organizing a political movement.

WHY HAS mobility slowed down or stagnated in the United States? There’s no real academic consensus on this point, but the lingering suspicion is that it’s linked to the trend toward growing income inequality that began in the late ’70s and continues to this day. During the American industrial revolution, growing income inequality was indeed the price the United States paid for growing economic mobility. In the present era, though, income inequality may be choking off opportunity. The oft-repeated metaphor is that as the ladder’s rungs grow farther apart, the ladder becomes more difficult to climb.

The principal advocates for this viewpoint are Corak and Alan Krueger, a Princeton labor economist who is currently chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. For a January 12 speech on income inequality delivered at the Center for American Progress, Krueger took a scatter diagram from a 2011 paper by Corak and plugged in more recent data from the OECD. Corak’s diagram plotted income heritability against inequality (as measured by its most common yardstick, the Gini coefficient) and found that the two tended to increase together. Krueger’s diagram showed an even tighter fit. Krueger called it the “Great Gatsby Curve.” “Countries that had more inequality across households,” Krueger said in his speech, “also had more persistence in income from one generation to the next.” More income inequality, Krueger concluded, leads to less income mobility.

Projecting from the Great Gatsby Curve—and assuming, perhaps rashly, that present trends will continue—Krueger calculated that, by the time today’s children grow up, income heritability will have grown from 47 percent to 56 percent. “In other words,” he explained, “the persistence in the advantages and disadvantages of income passed from parents to the children is predicted to rise by about a quarter for the next generation as a result of the rise in inequality that the U.S. has seen in the last twenty-five years. It is hard to look at these figures and not be concerned that rising inequality is jeopardizing our tradition of equality of opportunity.”

Krueger’s speech drew some criticism on technical grounds from Scott Winship, a Brookings scholar who’s an expert on mobility trends. Other economists drawn into the subsequent online debate (including Corak) favored Krueger’s side of the argument, but it may be some time before the question is settled. For now, what we can say is that income inequality in the United States can no longer be justified by America’s greater mobility, because we’ve stopped winning that race. Indeed, rising income inequality may be the very thing that’s causing upward mobility to slow down.

 
 
DEAR OVERSEAS AMERICAN FRIENDS,

I thought you’d enjoy the following letter and the three attachments.

I’ve been trying for nearly a year, and without success so far, to get some very basic statistics from the State Department.

State claims that they don’t have these statistics even though every embassy and consulate has to submit them each year. I don’t believe they actually throw them away, but, then again, you never know!

Anyway, it is just another sad example of how indifferent State is, and has long been, to our concerns while we live abroad.

Enjoy, and hopefully you might want to join this Tea Party and send your own similar FOI request.

It would be very interesting to see how they would respond when they had hundreds of the same request in their mail box coming in from all over the world.

The first step is rather simple, and can be done right on the State Department website at http://www.state.gov/m/a/ips/

Take care, Andy

att_2_jct_report_1_june_1995_front_page.doc
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att_4_wendy_sherman_letter_to_packwood_may_9_1995.doc
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ANDREW P. SUNDBERG

9 August 2012
Lori Hartmann,
Appeals Officer,
Office of Information Programs and Services
A/GIS/IPS/PP/LC,
Room 8100, SA-2,
U.S. Department of State,
Washington, D.C. 20522-8100.
U.S.A.

Dear Lori,

Nearly a year ago, on August 17th, 2011, I filed a Freedom of Information Request via the State Department’s website asking for data, by year and by overseas U.S. Embassy and Consulate, on the number of U.S. citizens who had renounced their U.S. citizenship, going back to 1963.

To my great surprise, and dismay, nearly eight months later I received a letter from the State Department, dated April 9, 2012, indicating that the State Department has no such statistical data in its files.

On April 16th, 2012, I filed an appeal to the Chairman of the Department’s Appeals Review Panel, and this appeal was confirmed in a letter that you signed and sent to me on 4 May 2012. You also indicated that the Case Number for this FOI Case is No. 201107020. (See attachment 1).

Since then, now more than three months ago, I have not had any further contact from the State Department on this FOI request.

I have subsequently, however, come across a very rich and relevant Congressional document that hopefully will assist the State Department in finally and efficiently fulfilling this request.

This document is a report dated 1 June, 1995, prepared by the Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress, entitled “Issues Presented by Proposals to Modify the Tax Treatment of Expatriation”. (The title page of this report is attachment 2)

Page 7 of this report shows the number of renunciations of U.S. citizenship at U.S. Embassies and Consulates all over the world for each year from 1962 to 1994, as documented by the State Department. These apparently are the total numbers of “Certificates of Loss of Nationality” that were issued to renunciators each year during this period by the State Department. (See attachment 3).

Pages G-55 to G-60 of this report is a letter dated May 9, 1995, from Wendy R. Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, addressed to Hon. Robert Packwood, Vice Chairman, Joint Committee on Taxation, United States Senate, which indicates the total numbers of renunciations of U.S. citizenship at U.S. Embassies and Consulates all over the world during the period 1980 to 1994. (See attachment 4).

As it is now perfectly clear and demonstrable that the State Department does indeed collect and retain this data, I would like to once again request that under the current provisions of the Freedom of Information Act you please make this information on the number of Certificates of Loss of Nationality during each year available to me as soon as possible. 

Furthermore, as this information has to be aggregated from reports filed by each Embassy and Consulate, I am sure that you also have this information on a per Embassy/Consulate basis, and therefore I would like to once again request that the breakdown of this data by Embassy/Consulate each year from 1963 to 2011 be also made available as soon as possible. A recently retired Foreign Service Officer confirmed to me that each Embassy and Consulate does indeed file reports on the number of such renunciations that take place and the number of certifications of renunciation that are issued each year, so this basic data is obviously coming into the State Department.

Finally, by current law, the State Department is required to send the names of those who renounce U.S. citizenship to the IRS, and each Quarter the IRS publishes names of some renunciators. But the big unanswered question remains of whether these names published by the IRS are all of those who have renounced, or just some of them.

From conversations with some who have renounced during recent years, it is also obvious that the annual quarters of the year when these names are published are not directly related to the quarters during which these renunciations actually took place. And some also claim that their names never showed up on the IRS lists. These are yet more reasons why I am asking the State Department for assistance in the long overdue clarification of this matter.

Therefore, to clear up all of this data size and date of occurrence uncertainty, I am once again appealing, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, for data on all renunciations that have taken place by year, and by Embassy/Consular Post, since 1963.

I eagerly await you response. My kindest regards and thanks in advance for your assistance.

All the very best.

Andy

Attachments:

1: Copy of your letter of 4 May 2012. (not included).

2: Title page of Congressional JTC Report of 1 June 1995. (see attached).

3. Page 7 of this JTC Report. (see attached).

4. Pages G-55 to G-60 of this JTC Report. (see attached).


 
 
DEAR BUBBAS AND BUBBETTES,

Once again that charming little question: how can you credibly have a functioning and accountable liberal democratic republican government when so much of what is going on is secret, and so few have the right to know what these “secrets” are really all about??

Well, of course, you have the wonderful fall back option: “Just trust me!!”.

Any thoughts on this???

Enjoy and take care, Andy

THE NATIONAL SECURITY COMPLEX AND YOU

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 19 July 2012.

When my daughter was little and I read to her regularly, one illustrated book was a favorite of ours. In a series of scenes, it described frustrating incidents in the life of a young girl, each ending with the line -- which my tiny daughter would boom out with remarkable force -- “that makes me mad!”  It was the book’s title and a repetitively cathartic moment in our reading lives.  And it came to mind recently as, in my daily reading, I stumbled across repetitively mind-boggling numbers from the everyday life of our National Security Complex.

For our present national security moment, however, I might amend the book’s punch line slightly to: That makes no sense!

Now, think of something you learned about the Complex that fried your brain, try the line yourself... and we’ll get started.

Are you, for instance, worried about the safety of America’s “secrets”? Then you should breathe a sigh of relief and consider this headline from a recent article on the inside pages of my hometown paper: “Cost to Protect U.S. Secrets Doubles to Over $11 Billion.” 

A government outfit few of us knew existed, the Information Security Oversight Office or ISOO, just released its “Report on Cost Estimates for Security Classification Activities for Fiscal Year 2011” (no price tag given, however, on producing the report or maintaining ISOO). Unclassified portions, written in classic bureaucratese, offer this precise figure for protecting our secrets, vetting our secrets' protectors (no leakers please), and ensuring the safety of the whole shebang: $11.37 billion in 2011.

That’s up (and get used to the word “up”) by 12% from 2010, and double the 2002 figure of $5.8 billion. For those willing to step back into what once seemed like a highly classified past but was clearly an age of innocence, it’s more than quadruple the 1995 figure of $2.7 billion.

And let me emphasize that we’re only talking about the unclassified part of what it costs for secrets protection in the National Security Complex.  The bills from six agencies, monsters in the intelligence world -- the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- are classified. The New York Times estimates that the real cost lies in the range of $13 billion, but who knows?

To put things in perspective, the transmission letter from Director John P. Fitzpatrick that came with the report makes it utterly clear why your taxpayer dollars, all $13 billion of them, are being spent this way: “Sustaining and increasing investment in classification and security measures is both necessary to maintaining the classification system and fundamental to the principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration.” It’s all to ensure transparency. George Orwell take that! Pow!

Now let’s try the line again, this time with more gusto: That makes no sense!

On the other hand, maybe it helps to think of this as the Complex’s version of inflation.  Security protection, it turns out, only goes in one direction. And no wonder, since every year there’s so much more precious material written by people in an expanding Complex to protect from the prying eyes of spies, terrorists, and, well, you.

The official figure for documents classified by the U.S. government last year is -- hold your hats on this one -- 92,064,862. And as WikiLeaks managed to release hundreds of thousands of them online a couple of years ago, that's meant a bonanza of even more money for yet more rigorous protection.

You have to feel at least some dollop of pity for protection bureaucrats like Fitzgerald. While back in 1995 the U.S. government classified a mere 5,685,462 documents -- in those days, we were practically a secret-less nation -- today, of those 92 million sequestered documents, 26,058,678 were given a “top secret” classification. There are today almost five times as many “top secret” documents as total classified documents back then.

Here’s another kind of inflation (disguised as deflation): in 1996, the government declassified 196 million pages of documents. In 2011, that figure was 26.7 million. In other words, these days what becomes secret remains ever more inflatedly secret.  That’s what qualifies as "transparency, participation, and collaboration" inside the Complex and in an administration that came into office proclaiming “sunshine” policies.  (All of the above info thanks to another of those ISOO reports.)  And keep in mind that the National Security Complex is proud of such figures!

So, today, the “people’s” government (your government) produces 92 million documents that no one except the nearly one million people with some kind of security clearance, including hundreds of thousands of private contractors, have access to. Don’t think of this as “overclassification,” which is a problem. Think of it as a way of life, and one that has ever less to do with you.

Now, honestly, don’t you feel that urge welling up? Go ahead. Don’t hold back: That makes no sense!

How about another form of security-protection inflation: polygraph tests within the Complex.  A recent McClatchy investigation of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which oversees U.S. spy satellites, found that lie-detector tests of employees and others had “spiked” in the last decade and had also grown far more intrusive, “pushing ethical and possibly legal limits.”  In a program designed to catch spies and terrorists, the NRO’s polygraphers were, in fact, being given cash bonuses for “personal confessions” of “intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees... including drug use... suicide attempts, depression, and sexual deviancy.” The agency, which has 3,000 employees, conducted 8,000 polygraph tests last year.

McClatchy adds: “In 2002, the National Academies, the nonprofit institute that includes the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the federal government shouldn’t use polygraph screening because it was too unreliable.  Yet since then, in the Defense Department alone, the number of national-security polygraph tests has increased fivefold, to almost 46,000 annually.”

Now, think about those 46,000 lie-detector tests and can’t you just sense it creeping up on you? Go ahead.  Don’t be shy! That makes no sense!

Or talking about security inflation, what about the “explosion of cell phone surveillance” recently reported by the New York Times -- a staggering 1.3 million demands in 2011 “for subscriber information... from law enforcement agencies seeking text messages, caller locations and other information in the course of investigations”?

From the Complex to local police departments, such requests are increasing by 12%-16% annually. One of the companies getting the requests, AT&T, says that the numbers have tripled since 2007. And lest you think that 1.3 million is a mind-blowingly definitive figure, the Times adds that it’s only partial, and that the real one is “much higher.”  In addition, some of those 1.3 million demands, sometimes not accompanied by court orders, are for multiple (or even masses of) customers, and so could be several times higher in terms of individuals surveilled. In other words, while those in the National Security Complex -- and following their example, state and local law enforcement -- are working hard to make themselves ever more opaque to us, we are meant to be ever more “transparent” to them.

These are only examples of a larger trend.  Everywhere you see evidence of such numbers inflation in the Complex.  And there’s another trend involved as well. Let’s call it by its name: paranoia.  In the years since the 9/11 attacks, the Complex has made itself, if nothing else, utterly secure, and paranoia has been its closest companion. Thanks to its embrace of a paranoid worldview, it’s no longer the sort of place that experiences job cuts, nor is lack of infrastructure investment an issue, nor budget slashing a reality, nor prosecution for illegal acts a possibility.

A superstructure of “security” has been endlessly expanded based largely on the fear that terrorists will do you harm. As it happens, you’re no less in danger from avalanches (34 dead in the U.S. since November) or tunneling at the beach (12 dead between 1990 and 2006), not to speak of real perils like job loss, foreclosure, having your college debts follow you to the grave, and so many other things.  But it matters little.  The promise of safety from terror has worked. It’s been a money-maker, a stimulus-program creator, a job generator -- for the Complex.

Back in 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote a Harper’s Magazine essay entitled “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Then, however, paranoia as he described it, while distinctly all-American, remained largely a phenomenon of American politics -- and often of the political fringe. Now, it turns out to be a guiding principle in the way we are governed.

Yes, we’re in a world filled with dangers. (Paranoia invariably has some basis, however twisted, in reality.) And significant among them is undoubtedly the danger the national security state represents to our lives, which are increasingly designed to be open books to its functionaries. Whether you like it or not, want it or not, care or not, you are ever more likely to be on file somewhere; you are ever more liable to be polygraphed until you “confess”; your cell phone, email, and texts are no longer your property; and one of the 30,000 employees of the Complex assigned to monitor American phone conversations and other communications may be checking you out. So it goes in twenty-first-century America.

Maybe if you haven’t said it yet, you’re finally feeling the urge.  Go on then, give it a try. That makes no sense!

There’s just one catch. The direction your government has taken -- call it “transparency” or anything else you want -- may boggle the mind. It may seem as idiotically wrong-headed as having 17 significant agencies and outfits in a single government on a budget of $80 billion-plus a year call the product of their work “intelligence.” It may not make sense to you, but it does make sense to the National Security Complex.  For its “community,” the coupling of security with redundancy -- with too much, too many, and always more -- means you’re speaking the language of the gods, you’re hearing the music of the angels.

So much of what the Complex does may seem like overkill and its operations may often look laughable and inane.  Unfortunately, the joke’s on you. In our country, the bureaucrats of the Complex increasingly have the power to make just about any absurdity they want the way of our world not just in practice, but often in court, too. And if you really think that makes no sense, then maybe you better put some thought into what’s to be done about it.

 
 
THE UNITED STATES IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE THAT STILL PRACTICES CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. WHY THIS REMAINS SO STUBBORNLY IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY HAS NEVER BEEN CLEARLY EXPLAINED.

HR/12/171

17 July 2012

DEATH ROW: UNITED NATIONS EXPERT URGES UNITED STATES AUTHORITIES TO STOP EXECUTION OF TWO PERSONS WITH PSYCHOSOCIAL DISABILITIES

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, urged the United States Government and those of Georgia and Texas “to demonstrate leadership and prevent the execution of two individuals with psychosocial disabilities,” due to be put to death tomorrow, Wednesday 18 July, in the states of Georgia and Texas. 

“It is a violation of death penalty safeguards to impose capital punishment on individuals suffering from psychosocial disabilities,” warned Mr. Heyns. “It is also contrary to the United States Supreme Court ruling Atkins v Virginia which held that such executions are unconstitutional.”

Warren Hill and Yokamon Laneal Hearn were both convicted of murder in separate incidents. The convictions have been the subject of a number of legal appeals based on the defendants’ mental health; however, their death sentences were upheld despite claims that the defendants had psychosocial disabilities, and the existence of a federal ban on such executions. On Monday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected clemency for Mr. Hill.

The United Nations independent expert called on the state authorities “to demonstrate the moral and legal leadership expected of the strong democracy that the United States is by commuting the death sentences of Hill and Hearn, and show the importance it gives to the fundamental right to life.” Mr. Heyns underscored that there is also a risk that “other Governments would follow the same approach in justifying the imposition of the death penalty for people suffering from psychosocial disabilities rather than applying a more humane punitive measure.”

In respect of Mr. Hill’s case, the expert is particularly disturbed that Georgia is now the only state in the United States that requires proof of what it calls ‘mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt,’ rather than a preponderance of the evidence as in other jurisdictions, although Georgia was the first state in the United States to recognize that such defendants should not be executed.

“This higher standard of proof, making it very difficult to demonstrate that one actually suffers from a psychosocial disability may, I fear, mean that Mr. Hill, scheduled for execution tomorrow, would be a fatality in violation of international as well as domestic law,” he stressed.

Regarding Mr. Hearn’s scheduled execution in Texas, the human rights expert noted that “there is evidence to suggest that he also suffers from psychosocial disabilities. This includes an expert opinion that he is affected by structural brain dysfunction likely to have been caused by his mother’s alcohol abuse during pregnancy.”

Information received by the Special Rapporteur raises issues of a lack of a proper investigation including mitigating factors, arbitrariness and non-compliance with fair trial safeguards that potentially constitute violations of international standards applicable to the death penalty.

Christof Heyns, from South Africa, was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in August 2010. He is Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Pretoria and Co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa.  He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm 

UN Human Rights, Country Page – USA: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

For additional information and media requests, please contact: Irina Tabirta (Tel: +41 22 917 9125 / email: itabirta@ohchr.org) or write to: eje@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:

Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

UN Human Rights, follow us on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/unitednationshumanrights

Twitter: http://twitter.com/UNrightswire

Google+ gplus.to/unitednationshumanrights  

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/UNOHCHR


Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en


___________

For use of the information media; not an official record

 
 
 
 

IT STARTS THIS EXPLOSIVE WAY, BUT CAN IT POSSIBLY LAST VERY LONG??

Here is a high testosteronic introductory teaser for a new TV show being launched in the midst of another contentious Presidential election year.

Will the follow-up episodes be able to keep appearing on the screens near you?

If these first three minutes give us a hint, alas, in the “City Upon a Hill”’s current hubristic but sadly dystopian mode, it probably won’t be for very long.

But, hey, so what, click below and enjoy this first scene of the new HBO series “The Newsroom”

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31810.htm

 
 
DEAR BUBBAS AND BUBBETTES,

Take a deep breath before you read these articles and attachments, and perhaps take a stiff drink too.

Growing profits now being made by private sector prisons, and then increased profits by mistreating these prisoners? Can this venture capital innovation possibly be true?

Then take a step back and think about how we might try to reign in this abuse of our liberal democratic republican ideology.

So here is one suggestion. Suppose that in order to win and keep one of these privatized prison contracts each of the directors of these companies would have to agree to spend three nights in each of these prisons during each year. They would have to arrive as if they were real prisoners, and then go through the full experience anonymously. just like everyone else in a striped suit.

Just imagine how quickly these abuses described below would probably end, how quickly the quality of daily life in these prisons would improve, but also how quickly the profits would shrink, and perhaps the privatization experiment would probably quickly end too!!

And here is another one. How about decriminalizing some of these minor offences that now lead to incarcerations, like the possession of small amounts of marijuana, etc. Many other countries seem to be surviving very well with much softer legislation and much more moral penal systems.

And, finally, how about making it illegal for owners of privately run prisons to lobby legislative and executive officials!

Anyway, enjoy and reflect once again on how our uber-innovative political experiment keeps coming up with these strange profit generating anomalies.  

And don’t forget also, with just about 5% of the world’s population we as a country now stand out as the world leader with about a quarter of the world’s total incarcerations.

I’m not sure this is something we should be very proud of. Then again, if you can make some bucks from this business, well, you know, well, hmmm, etc.

Enjoy and please share your own thoughts on all of this too.  Andy

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THE SHOCKING WAYS THE CORPORATE PRISON INDUSTRY GAMES THE SYSTEM

By Rania Khalek, AlterNet, 30 November 2011. Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet.

The United States, with just 5 percent of the world’s population, currently holds 25 percent of the world's prisoners, and for the last 30 years America’s business entrepreneurs have found a lucrative way to cash in on the incarceration surplus: private for-profit prisons.

While the implications of an industry that locks human beings in cages for profit is an old story, there is an important part of the history of private prisons that often goes untold.  

Just a decade ago, private prisons were a dying industry awash in corruption and mired in lawsuits, particularly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest private prison operator.  

Today, these companies are booming once again, yet the lawsuits and scandals continue to pile up.  Meanwhile, more and more evidence shows that compared to publicly run prisons, private jails are filthier, more violent, less accountable, and contrary to what privatization advocates peddle as truth, do not save money.  In fact, more recent findings suggest that private prisons could be more costly. 

So why are they still in business?

In a recently published report, "Banking on Bondage: Mass Incarceration and Private Prisons," (see below) the American Civil Liberties Union examines the history of prison privatization and finds that private prison companies owe their continued and prosperous existence to skyrocketing immigration detention post September 11 as well as the firm hold they have gained over elected and appointed officials.

The Rise of Private Prisons

David Shapiro, the primary author of the ACLU report, told AlterNet that prior to the early 1980s, private prisons were “virtually nonexistent.” That quickly changed as the War on Drugs ‘tough on crime’ mentality swept the nation with institution of draconian sentencing and release laws for nonviolent offenders, causing an explosion in US incarceration rate. 

State and federal governments increasingly struggled with overcrowded prisons and the rising costs of housing the rapidly growing pool of inmates.  

Coupled with the emergence of privatization madness under Ronald Reagan (a pattern that has continued under both Democrat and Republican administrations), skyrocketing imprisonment presented the perfect opportunity for the private sector to get in on the action, with promises of cost savings and more efficient operations than government-run facilities.

In 1984, the Corrections Corporation of America was awarded a contract to operate a public jail in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and the nation’s first-ever private prison was born.

According to the ACLU report, from 1970 to 2005, the number of people locked up in the US shot up by 700 percent. Meanwhile, between 1990 and 2009 the number of prisoners behind private prison bars exploded from 7,000 to 129,000 inmates, a growth rate of 1600 percent. But the private prison boom of the ‘90s did not last.  

Immigration Detention Saves the Day

In 1999, independent auditors were skeptical about whether CCA could stay afloat because beds were empty and the company experienced a $72 million net loss in revenue. By 2000, an article in BusinessWeek declared

“the industry is in a rut, and its prospects have been severely trimmed. Overbuilding and ill-fated financial schemes have hammered stock prices. States, once eager to outsource their inmates, are backing out of private prison contracts. News of escapes and violence at private prisons adds to a climate of distrust.”  The article concludes that “the industry's heyday may already be history.”

A 2001 article in the American Prospect, Bailing Out Private Jails, offers a snapshot of the industry’s bleak future at the turn of the century:

… with the states pulling back from the trouble-plagued facilities and Wall Street reacting even more strongly to the deaths and scandals, the companies have found themselves overleveraged and undercapitalized--CCA, in particular. It built new prisons "on spec," assuming that contracts to fill them would follow, and by my estimate the company now has more than 8,500 prison beds standing empty. The firm last year came close to a financial meltdown: Its stock lost 93 percent of its value in 2000, and its accountants reported a fourth-quarter loss of more than a third of a billion dollars.

With demand down, private prisons were forced to seek out new markets if they were to survive, so they turned to immigration detention. According to the Columbia Law Review, the daily average of immigrants detained in 1994 was 6000.

After Congress passed Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in 1996, which authorized the mandatory detention of noncitizens with criminal convictions, immigration detention swelled dramatically. By 2001, the number of detained immigrants more than tripled to 20,000. But this alone wasn’t enough to save private prisons.

According to the ACLU report, heightened immigration enforcement following the 2001 terrorist attacks were largely responsible for resurrecting the private prison boom, as was predicted by Steve Logan, CEO of Cornell Corrections which has since been acquired by the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private prison operator.

On a conference call with investors just two months after 9/11 Logan said:

I think it’s clear that with the events of Sept. 11, there’s a heightened focus on detention, both on the borders and within the U.S. [and] more people get caught. So that’s a positive for our business. The federal business is the best business for us.

He was right.

The number of immigrants detained annually has nearly doubled, to 390,000 since immigration enforcement was transferred to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security in 2003, creating a huge market for private prison operators, who house almost 50 percent of all federally detained immigrants compared with just 6 percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of federal prisoners.

Since 2001, CCA revenues have increased 88 percent, earning over $1 billion annually for the last eight years in a row. Today, CCA receives 40 percent of its business from the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

GEO Group revenues shot up as well, from $517 million in 2002 to $1.3 billion in 2010, a 121 percent increase. 

Given the private prison industry’s heavy reliance on immigration detention, it comes as no surprise that Arizona’s draconian immigration law SB 1070 was shaped with the assistance of private prison leaders and lobbyists.

The law authorizes Arizona police to arrest and detain individuals they suspect are undocumented if they fail to provide paperwork proving their legal residence, essentially legalizing racial profiling.  

Gaming the System

Although these companies are increasingly depended on immigration detention, they have not given up on the criminal justice market.

For private prisons whose profits are dependent on a constant and growing pool of prisoners, that means supporting policies that maintain and even increase the incarceration rate.

For inmates, that translates to longer sentences, unsanitary conditions, and as Shapiro documents in the ACLU report, brutal violence, corruption, and abuse with little to no oversight. 

Leniency and sentencing changes actually pose a threat to business models of these companies. The more crime there is the more business private prison companies get, and the more strict sentencing laws there are the more taxpayer money is poured into private prison companies incarcerating individuals for nonviolent offenses,” says Shapiro.

The CCA lays out the risks to their business model in their 2010 Annual Report to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. 

The GEO Group, highlighted similar risks to their revenue stream in the company’s 2010 Annual Report:

[A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

In other words, a more humane criminal justice and immigration detention system threatens the very existence of these companies, and according to the ACLU report, they have flooded government at the state and federal level with cash and armies of lobbyists to keep the laws as harsh and cruel as ever. 

That explains why CCA spent over $18 million on federal lobbying between 1999 and 2009 and has spent $970,000 on federal lobbying in 2010 alone.  As for state government influence-peddling, the ACLU report cites a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics which found that from 2003 to 2011 CCA hired 199 lobbyists in 32 states while GEO Group hired 72 lobbyists in 17 states.

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a comprehensive report in June called "Gaming the System," (see attached) that comprehensively lays out the tactics private prison companies exercise to push for tougher sentencing policies that add to the private prison population.  While their strategy is built largely around campaign contributions and lobbying, they also cultivate and maintain special relationships with current and former elected and appointed officials, which can lead to disastrous consequences.  

The Human Cost

Despite numerous cases of corruption, the private prison industry continues to thrive with little oversight, largely due to a revolving door between public and private corrections that, according to Shapiro,

"may contribute to the ability of some companies to win contracts or to avoid sufficient scrutiny from the corrections departments charged with overseeing their operations."

One of the most egregious examples of this dynamic took place at a West Texas juvenile prison run by GEO Group where inmates were found living in filth.

In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission, which was responsible for monitoring the quality of the facility, fired several employees who not only failed to report on the horrific conditions but also actually praised and thanked the GEO staff for their fine work, awarding them an overall compliance score of 97.7 percent.

It was eventually discovered that the prior to working for TYC, the state monitors had been employed by the GEO Group.

The situation became even more troubling when independent auditors were sent to the jail, where they

"got so much fecal matter on their shoes they had to wipe their feet on the grass outside.”

Among the long list of reported findings was evidence of

 

“racial segregation [in] the dorms; Hispanics are not allowed to be cell mates with African-Americans."  

The youth reported to the auditors that they were "disciplined for speaking Spanish," prevented from speaking to their lawyers, denied access to medical treatment, and even "forced to urinate or defecate in some container other than a toilet" due to a lack of toilets in some of the cells.

The potential for such injustice involving incarcerated children isn't limited to Pennsylvania. The ACLU report notes,

"According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, privately owned corporations operate more than 50 percent of youth correctional facilities in the United States."

There is no clearer example of dangers associated mixing profit-making and juvenile rehabilitation than the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) operated by the GEO Group in Mississippi.  WGYCF, which has been called "the deepest depths of hell," is the nation's largest juvenile prison. It houses 1,200 young males between the ages of 13 and 22, 67 percent of whom are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. The facility was originally established by the Mississippi state legislature to create a safe environment for juveniles charged as adults by keeping them separate from the cruel and harsh conditions often found in adult prisons. 

Unfortunately, that mission is incompatible with the priorities of the for-profit prison industry.

As it turns out, conditions at WGYCF are so atrocious that the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have teamed up to file a class-action lawsuit on behalf the inmates against the prison operator (GEO Group), prison administrators, and state officials.

The complaint alleges,

 

"The for-profit entities that manage WGYCF perpetuate violence and corruption."  

More specifically, youth have been kicked and punched while handcuffed, others stripped naked and confined to solitary for weeks at a time.  

Another inmate was

"held hostage in his cell for almost 24 hours, brutally raped and physically assaulted after prison staff failed to heed his plea for protection."  

Another lives with permanent brain damage after suffering multiple stabbings and beatings that prison staff are described as having been complicit in.

While each atrocity sounds more chilling than the next, even more striking is the prospect that this inexplicable violence and neglect may be rooted in the insatiable desire for higher profit margins through cost cutting at the expense of the safety and health of inmates.

An investigation carried out by NPR found that state audits from both 2005 and 2010 indicate that there were fewer guards despite an increase in the number of prisoners.  According to the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, most juvenile facilities around the country have one guard for every 10 to 12 juveniles. At WGYCF there is 1 guard for every 60 inmates.  Yet, as the ACLU report points out,

"private companies, including the GEO Group...have extracted more than $100 million in revenue from the facility’s operation."

Since salaries make up the largest chunk of correctional budget expenses, hiring fewer guards can prove to be quite lucrative, especially since the one full-time state employee tasked with monitoring the prisons operations has his salary reimbursed by the private company operating the facility.

The violence doesn’t stop at WGYCF. According to Shapiro, there is evidence, including multiple studies carried out by the Justice Department, that for-profit prisons are more violent than governmentally operated facilities, which is likely the result of understaffed, poorly paid, and poorly trained guards. 

These are the companies we are putting in charge of the expanding immigration detention system, and so far, their track record fairs no better.

Last year, the New York Times and ACLU obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act detailing107 deaths in ICE detention since October 2003.  According to the report, nine of those deaths occurred at a CCA detention center in Eloy, Arizona, “more than any other immigration jail under contract to the federal government." 

Even worse,

“the documents show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse,” underscoring the lack of oversight that exists in immigration detention as it is.

Private Prisons Must Go

Despite the questionable cost-cutting measures that private prisons have employed, there is little to no evidence that they cost less than government run corrections as privatization advocates have claimed.

According to Shapiro, evidence behind the assertion that private prisons save money is “mixed at best,” with a number of studies even showing that privatizing jails may actually cost the state more money. 

An analysis conducted by the Arizona Department of Corrections of the state’s prisons indicated just that, finding that Arizona’s prisons may be more costly than publicly run prisons even though they avoid housing sick inmates to save on healthcare costs, something state run facilities cannot do. 

In 2007, researchers from the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center published a meta-analysis of previous privatization studies and concluded,

“Cost savings from privatization are not guaranteed and quality of services is not improved. Across the board effect sizes were small, so small that the value of moving to a privately managed system is questionable.”

Shapiro added,

“In general the evidence that there are these cost savings associated is questionable and dangerous because the only way that money really can be saved is by putting less people in prison.  This argument has the potential to get politicians side-tracked from the making the moral and ethical and financially sustainable decisions.”

Shapiro believes the best way to scale back the abuses of the private prison industry is to reduce the number of people in prison. 

“This is crippling state budgets. We can’t pay for roads or schools because so much money being funneled in corrections. It’s tearing apart families and communities completely counterproductive. It’s good for no one except the private prison industry,” says Shapiro.

BANKING ON BONDAGE:

PRIVATE PRISONS AND MASS INCARCERATION

The ACLU, November 2, 2011

Executive Summary

The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one — especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises. This report finds, however, that mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group — the private prison industry — even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole. While the nation's unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards.

As the public good suffers from mass incarceration, private prison companies obtain more and more government dollars, and private prison executives at the leading companies rake in enormous compensation packages, in some cases totaling millions of dollars.

The Spoils of Mass Incarceration

The United States imprisons more people — both per capita and in absolute terms — than any other nation in the world, including Russia, China, and Iran.

Over the past four decades, imprisonment in the United States has increased explosively, spurred by criminal laws that impose steep sentences and curtail the opportunity to earn probation and parole. The current incarceration rate deprives record numbers of individuals of their liberty, disproportionately affects people of color, and has at best a minimal effect on public safety.

Meanwhile, the crippling cost of imprisoning increasing numbers of Americans saddles government budgets with rising debt and exacerbates the current fiscal crises confronting states across the nation.

Leading private prison companies essentially admit that their business model depends on high rates of incarceration. For example, in a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, stated:

"The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . . ."

As incarceration rates skyrocket, the private prison industry expands at exponential rates, holding ever more people in its prisons and jails, and generating massive profits. Private prisons for adults were virtually non-existent until the early 1980s, but the number of prisoners in private prisons increased by approximately 1600% between 1990 and 2009.

Today, for-profit companies are responsible for approximately 6% of state prisoners, 16% of federal prisoners, and, according to one report, nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government.

In 2010, the two largest private prison companies alone received nearly $3 billion dollars in revenue, and their top executives, according to one source, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million.

A Danger to State Finances

While supporters of privatization tout the idea that governments can save money through private facilities, the evidence for supposed cost savings is mixed at best. As state governments across the nation confront deep fiscal deficits, the assertion that private prisons demonstrably reduce the costs of incarceration can be dangerous and irresponsible.

Such claims may lure states into building private prisons or privatizing existing ones rather than reducing incarceration rates and limiting corrections spending through serious criminal justice reform.

This year, advocates of for-profit prisons trotted out privatization schemes as a supposed answer to budgetary woes in numerous states:

  • Arizona has announced plans to award 5,000 additional prison beds to private contractors, despite a recent statement by the Arizona Auditor General that for-profit imprisonment in Arizona may cost more than incarceration in publicly-operated facilities. Arizona's Department of Corrections is the only large agency in that state not subject to a budget cut in fiscal year 2012 — in fact, the Department's budget increased by $10 million. According to a news report, private prison employees and corporate officers contributed money to Governor Jan Brewer's reelection campaign, and high ranking Brewer Administration officials previously worked as private prison lobbyists.
  • Florida has responded to exploding incarceration costs largely through increasing reliance on private prisons. Although the assertion that private prisons save taxpayer money is highly questionable, supporters of privatization, according to a recent news report, claim that privatization in Florida is necessary to rein in the prison system's budget, which stood at $2.3 billion in 2010. A recent editorial in the Orlando Sentinel expressed the view that privatization "has eclipsed and shelved potentially more fruitful, cost-effective changes. One of them is sentencing reform." On September 30, 2011, a Florida court enjoined the Department of Corrections from implementing the privatization of prisons in 18 counties, finding that the planned privatization failed to comply with procedures mandated by state law. The court stated, "[t]he decision to issue only one [request for proposal] and only one contract for all 29 prison facilities [subject to proposed privatization] was based on convenience and speed, … rather than on any demonstrated savings or benefit advantage."
  • Ohio recently announced that it will become, on December 31, 2011, the first state in the nation to sell a publicly operated prison, Lake Erie Correctional Facility, to a private company, CCA. Notably, the head of Ohio's corrections department had served as a managing director of CCA. The claim that prison privatization demonstrably reduces costs and trims government budgets may detract from the critical work of reducing the state's prison population.
  • Louisiana narrowly defeated a proposal, pushed by Governor Bobby Jindal in a desperate attempt to generate short-term revenue, to sell off three state prisons to private companies. The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee blocked the bill by a vote of 13-12, with legislators expressing deep concern about the wisdom of selling off the state's assets.
The federal government is in the midst of a private prison expansion spree, driven primarily by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an agency that locks up roughly 400,000 immigrants each year and spends over $1.9 billion annually on custody operations.

ICE now intends to create a new network of massive immigration detention centers, managed largely by private companies, in states including New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois.

According to a news report, in August 2011, ICE's plans to send 1,250 immigration detainees to Essex County, New Jersey threatened to unravel amid allegations that a private prison company seeking the contract, whose executives enjoyed close ties to Governor Chris Christie, received "special treatment" from the county.

The fiscal crisis confronting the federal government, however, has done nothing to dampen Washington's spending binge on privatized immigration detention.

 

Atrocious Conditions

While evidence is mixed, certain empirical studies show a heightened level of violence against prisoners in private institutions. This may reflect in part the higher rate of staff turnover in private prisons, which can result in inexperienced guards walking the tiers.

After an infamous escape from an Arizona private prison in 2010, for example, the Arizona Department of Corrections reported that at the prison,

"[s]taff are fairly 'green' across all shifts," "are not proficient with weapons," and habitually ignore sounding alarms. Private facilities have also been linked to atrocious conditions. In a juvenile facility in Texas, for example, auditors reported, "[c]ells were filthy, smelled of feces and urine."

Just three weeks before the release of this report, prisoner fights in several locations throughout a private prison in Oklahoma left 46 prisoners injured and required 16 inmates to be sent to the hospital, some of them in critical condition.

The risks to safety confronting inmates in private prisons are especially relevant at present, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could, depending on the outcome, prevent federal prisoners in private institutions from seeking compensation for constitutional violations — including deliberate indifference to prisoners' physical well being.

Shrewd Tactics

Certain private prison companies employ shrewd tactics to obtain more and more government contracts to incarcerate prisoners. In February 2011, for example, a jury convicted former Luzerene County, Pennsylvania Judge Mark Ciavarella of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy in connection with payments received from a private prison developer.

Tactics employed by some private prison companies, or individuals associated with the private prison industry, to gain influence or acquire more contracts or inmates include: use of questionable financial incentives; benefitting from the "revolving door" between public and private corrections; extensive lobbying; lavish campaign contributions; and efforts to control information.

* * * *

A copy of the full ACLU report is attached.

Part One of this Report traces the rise of the for-profit prison industry over the past 30 years, demonstrating that private prisons reaped lucrative spoils as incarceration rates reached historic levels.

Part Two focuses on the supposed benefits associated with private prisons, showing that the view that private prison companies provide demonstrable economic benefits and humane facilities is debatable at best.

Part Three discusses the tactics private prison companies have used to obtain control of more and more human beings and taxpayer dollars.

The time to halt the expansion of for-profit incarceration is now. The evidence that private prisons provide savings compared to publicly operated facilities is highly questionable, and certain studies point to worse conditions in for-profit facilities. The private prison industry helped to create the mass incarceration crisis and feeds off of this social ill. Private prisons cannot be part of the solution — economic or ethical — to the problem of mass incarceration.

 

U.S. PRISON POPULATION

DWARFS THAT OF OTHER NATIONS

By Adam Liptak, New York Times, 23 April 2008.

The United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population. But it has almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China's extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net.

Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

"In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States," Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in "Democracy in America."

No more.

"Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror," James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. "Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons."

 

Prison sentences here have become

 

"vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared," Michael Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in "The Handbook of Crime and Punishment."

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States

 

"a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach."

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people.

It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation's relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

"The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different," said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. "But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it's much higher."

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics.

 

"The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism," said Stern of King's College.

Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them "are among the most serious and violent offenders."

Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.

Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia are also disproportionately represented in those nation's prisons, and the ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.

Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.

"Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are," Tonry wrote last year in "Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative Perspective."

"It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries," Tonry wrote. "Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential."

The American character — self-reliant, independent, judgmental — also plays a role.

"America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on individual responsibility," Whitman of Yale wrote. "That attitude has shown up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years."

French-speaking countries, by contrast, have "comparatively mild penal policies," Tonry wrote.

Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and national comparisons can be misleading.

"Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas," said Mauer of the Sentencing Project.

(Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population; Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at 1,138.)

Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America's exceptional incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.

"As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being victimized" thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul Cassell, an authority on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.

From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and rising in England.

"These figures," Cassell wrote, "should give one pause before too quickly concluding that European sentences are appropriate."

Other commentators were more definitive.

"The simple truth is that imprisonment works," wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. "Locking up criminals for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far offset the costs."

There is a counterexample, however, to the north.

"Rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years," Tonry wrote last year. "But its imprisonment rate has remained stable."

Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.

Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.

Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville's work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America's booming prison population.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was talking about," he said. "We have a highly politicized criminal justice system."