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WATCH: Stephen Colbert Eviscerates 'Justice' System that Imprisons People for Being Poor

June 12, 2014 in Blogs

By Janet Allon, AlterNet

Sadly hilarious segment lays bare the real-life return of debtors prisons.

Stephen Colbert's segment “The Word” last night highlighted the utter injustice of a system which increasingly imprisons people for the crime being poor, and tries to turn a profit on their bodies and their labor.

The whole segment was thoroughly researched and filled with sad and savagely true jokes. 

For example:

“The average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in fiscal year 2011 was almost $29,000,” Colbert said. “And in New York City, the cost per inmate is nearly $168,000 — though the broker will tell you that’s a pretty good deal for a 6-by-10 studio with eat-in toilet.”

“Fortunately,” he continued, “our justice system has found so many ways to cut corners.”

“First, by eliminating non-essentials. For example, governors in Utah, Idaho, Texas, Indiana, and Arizona have refused federal funding for the Prison Rape Elimination Act. That reminds me of the old joke,” Colbert said. “Two prisoners are in the shower, and one of them drops a bar of soap, so what the other guy says is, ‘What’s about to happen is fiscally irresponsible to prevent.’”

“But the savings don’t stop at not preventing sexual assault — there’s also cheap labor. The New York Times reports that ‘the federal government…is relying on tens of thousands of…detained immigrants [to] work…detention centers…cooking meals, scrubbing showers and buffing hallways…usually for $1 a day or less.’”

“It makes sense,” the faux right-wing comedian said, “They come to America to steal our jobs, so we arrest them, then force them to do our jobs.”

Then he turned his laser-like humor to how prisons are now-profit motivated and therefore charging often indigent defendants for services.

“After a year-long investigation, NPR has found that ‘in at least 43 states…defendants can be billed for their public defender…their own probation and parole supervision…for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear…and room and board for jail and prison stays.’”

“And the best part is, these fees are self-sustaining investments,” he said. “It’s a great system. If a defendant can’t pay a fine or fee, they go to jail, where they’ll rack up more food …read more


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Anti-Fraud Legislation in Maryland Could Have Disturbing Side Effects

June 12, 2014 in Economics

By Walter Olson

Walter Olson

The Maryland General Assembly this year came close to passing a state version of the federal False Claims Act, a measure promoted by its backers as a powerful weapon against fraud but deplored by the state’s chamber of commerce as “burdensome and unfair.”

The bill failed on the last day of session when Minority Leader David Brinkley, R-Frederick County, used a procedural maneuver to kill it; since then it’s become an issue in the hotly contested District 4 primary, with Brinkley’s challenger, Del.Michael Hough, among the few Republicans to support the measure.

The law is controversial for good reason. At the federal level, it has led to some alarming unintended consequences.

At the federal level, this law has led to some alarming unintended consequences.”

Based on a Civil War era statute that was drastically expanded in 1986, the federal False Claims Act allows freelance informers to accuse business or non-profit entities dealing with the government of fraud, and then pocket a hefty share of the proceeds of a resulting judgment or settlement. To encourage suit-filing, the law awards treble or other multiple damages, attorney’s fees, stiff statutory damages and other enhancers. The model of privatized law enforcement has led to successful exposure of some genuine frauds, but has also led to some disturbing side effects.

The law has made rich various employees who participated in frauds themselves, or failed to inform higher-ups of their discovery of accounting problems (which might mean sacrificing a False Claims Act award for themselves). It has even provided a reason to not report fraud too quickly, as in the case of an employee accused by General Electric chairman Jack Welch of having “sat back and waited in the weeds so the damages would mount.”

Complainants have also couched as “fraud” simple differences of opinion in complex areas of government contracting — reimbursement formulas, overhead rates, etc. — as well as industry customs not challenged by government payors at the time. When stakes are high defendants often settle for some fraction of the demand. Lawyers jump to file suits based on gray areas of contracting regulations where there are high stakes and a solvent defendant. They don’t bother to file suits against serious, unmistakable fraud when there is no one with deep pockets to sue (say, because the fraudster is broke).

Animal rights activists have used the law to go after a federally funded cancer researcher, supposedly on the theory that he …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Big Business Vs. Libertarians in the GOP

June 12, 2014 in Economics

By David Boaz

David Boaz

Republicans who don’t do the bidding of corporations are getting bull’s-eyes this primary season.

Big business took a big loss in Virginia Tuesday, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat to little-known Tea Party favorite David Brat, who had criticized Cantor for his business ties and pledged, “I will fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful.”

Around the country, though, big business is devoting a surprising amount of effort to trying to defeat the small number of libertarian-minded members of Congress and state legislatures.Why, for instance, did big companies spend so much money to defeat a Republican Georgia legislator last month? Apparently Rep. Charles Gregory was just too libertarian for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the companies like Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Georgia Power, and AT&T, who suddenly set up a the “Georgia Coalition for Job Growth” to oppose him and other tea party legislators. It’s not the only example this primary season.

Republicans who don’t do the bidding of corporations are getting bull’s-eyes this primary season.”

In Kentucky, business leaders lobbied hard though unsuccessfully to persuade Steve Stevens, head of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, to run against Rep. Thomas Massie. Massie, a businessman himself, is a strong fiscal conservative, but some local business leaders don’t like what they see as his stand-off approach.

A Washington business consultant has moved to northern California to challenge anti-earmarks Rep. Tom McClintock, because he “thinks representatives should deliver for folks back home,” in the words of a local reporter.

And that’s just it. It isn’t gay marriage or foreign policy that seems to annoy big and politically connected businesses. They just object that libertarian legislators don’t play the game, don’t bring home the bacon, and actually take seriously the limited government ideas that most Republicans only pay lip service to.

In Michigan business leaders are funding financial consultant Brian Ellis’s primary challenge to Rep. Justin Amash. Since his election in the 2010 tea party wave, Amash has emerged as the most libertarian member of the House of Representatives. He’s second to McClintock on the National Taxpayers Union spending-vote ratings. He organized a bipartisan effort to rein in the National Security Agency that came within a few votes of passing the House. He heads the House Liberty Caucus. He Amash told the New York Times, “I follow a set of principles, I follow the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Smugglers Made America

June 12, 2014 in Economics

By Mises Updates


Mises Daily Thursday by Mark Thornton:

Smuggling in America has been around since colonial days and will continue into the foreseeable future. It has played a very prominent role, rather than a subsidiary one, through our history. Indeed it has often played a pivotal role in important events and episodes in American history.

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Europe Protests Progress

June 12, 2014 in Economics

By David Howden

Taxicab protest in London. Credit: David Holt

Taxicab protest in London. Credit: David Holt

Striking taxi drivers snarled traffic in several European cities yesterday in a show of solidarity against a common threat. Unlike other protests of the past few years which have largely been against austerity measures, this time workers from London, Paris, Berlin and Madrid were unified against Uber.

A smartphone app that connects drivers and passengers in a ridesharing program, Uber has already made strong headway in many other countries. Of course, it has also already met strong resistance from taxi drivers looking to protect themselves from a new competitor.

The public’s reaction has been mostly unified with the view that taxi drivers are just trying to protect their turf, and that this is on balance harmful for consumers.

At the same time, though, one could also sympathize with these poor taxi drivers. Imagine you were in an industry with high barriers to entry imposed by the local city’s government. You needed to go through a licensing program and pay a fee to be able to legally call yourself a taxi driver, and to pick up customers. Then, seemingly out of the blue, something happens which causes your initial “investment” to decline in value.

The arrival of Uber changes the rules of the game for taxi drivers. I would be upset too if this happened in my own line of work.

Still, chagrin over a new competitor that removes the old rationale for why you paid such a high levy to enter an industry is not a reason to not allow the new competitor in. If anything, the ire that taxi drivers have should be directed at the local city governments that imposed strict licensing requirements on them in the past. It was these laws that unnecessarily increased the costs to enter the industry. It is also these old laws that are now making a new low-cost competitor in the taxi world so threatening.

We can’t change the past. The costs that taxi drivers have already incurred to enter their industry cannot be reversed. But we can at least take this as a lesson for the future. Licensing requirements raise the cost of entry to a given industry, and protect the profits earned by the people already a part of it. These requirements also make it unusually painful for those that completed them when a new competitor shows up.

If you want to remove the …read more