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Part 5: Private Prisons - Sweetheart Contracts Fill Beds & Pad Profits

by: countrycat

Thu Dec 18, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

At 192% occupancy, Alabama's prisons are so overcrowded that some fear a federal takeover. It's likely that some sort of prison reform (or maybe just a building spree) will be a major topic of the 2015 legislative session. And when the private prison lobbyists start waving donation checks and ALEC-inspired bills at legislators, there's a good chance some form of privatization will be under discussion.  

Alabama private prisons
The private prison industry is generous with contributions. Between 2004 & 2012, half the members of the Oklahoma legislature received $200,000 in gifts and campaign contributions.
But before we start looking at a short-term fix, it's important to see how these contracts have played out in other states. For the most part, prison privatization is a zero sum "solution" to a problem: when corporations win, taxpayers lose.

Need to catch up?

"Guaranteed Occupancy" Is a Crucial Part of the Business Model
When CCA made its 2012 offer to 48 states to buy the state prison systems outright, that offer came with one important condition: the state would have to "guarantee" a 90% occupancy rate. Last year, In the Public Interest (an anti-privatization group) reviewed 62 private prison contracts. Two-thirds of them (41 total) included occupancy requirements:

States with the highest occupancy requirements include Arizona (three prison contracts with 100 percent occupancy guarantees), Oklahoma (three contracts with 98 percent occupancy guarantees), and Virginia (one contract with a 95 percent occupancy guarantee).

Now, the societal goal for prisons is (or should be) to keep the population as low as possible and avoid as many repeat visits to the facility as possible. That not only saves money, lower recidivism helps the community by keeping families together and hopefully keeping prisoners as part of the workforce outside prison industries. However, those goals conflict with the private prison business model, and Colorado learned that lower crime rates can be just as expensive as soaring crime rates:

The deal to keep sending inmates to private prisons wasted at least $2 million in state tax money, says Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. The total could be far more. The state already has 1,000 empty beds in various state prisons and that number is rising by nearly 100 a month. That includes 300 beds in cellblocks shut temporarily until the study is completed. Officials need some beds open for flexibility, but won’t say how many.

The deal gave CCA a written promise of 3,300 prisoners, at $20,000 each, for the fiscal year that ends this June. Details were hashed out a year ago during meetings between the governor’s office, CCA and its Colorado lobbyist, Mike Feeley.
“The whole idea around private prisons was that they were overflow, that we would only use them to the extent that we needed them,” Donner said. Donner was critical of the deal, which she noted was “negotiated behind closed doors.”

Even if the contracts start out with no occupancy guarantees, that can change. For instance, initially, the 2011 contract between Colorado and CCA explicity stated that “the state does not guarantee any minimum number of offenders will be assigned to the contractors’ facility.” However, CCA re-negotiated the deal in 2013 and included quotas. The result cost the state millions:

Instead of using empty bed space at state-run facilities, the Colorado Department of Corrections housed inmates in CCA’s facilities to ensure they met the occupancy requirement.  Thanks to the quota, the private prisons were the first priority for placement, rather than the last.

Tennessee taxpayers also shelled out money to compensate CCA for empty prison beds:

A 2009 contract between Metro Government and Corrections Corporation of America guarantees that the private prison company will be paid for 90-percent capacity in the women’s section of its Metro Detention Facility. But records show that the private-run prison has rarely been that full, putting taxpayers on the hook for $487,917.27 worth of empty beds since 2011, when it first began booking female prisoners. Such quota systems are commonplace across the nation but prompt criticism, in Nashville and elsewhere, that the arrangements are better for private corporations than taxpayers.

A Bad Long-term Solution to a Short-term Problem
The most attractive contracts from the industry perspective are those that CCA offered to states in 2012. The company offered to purchase the states' prisons, giving many cash-strapped governments a huge infusion of cash. In return, the state would contract with CCA for 20 years, pay a management fee, pay a set amount per prison bed, and guarantee 90% occupancy.

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Part 4: Private Prisons & Government - A Revolving Door of Influence & Insiders

by: countrycat

Wed Dec 17, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

In 2012, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent letters to 48 state governors offering to buy the state prison systems outright. All CCA required in return was a 20-year management contract and guaranteed 90% occupancy rate. This was a stunning offer from a company that was barely three decades old, and it highlights just how successful the private prison industry has been in penetrating the "marketplace" of public prisons. How did they do it? How does anything get done in today's political environment?  With money, lobbying, and insider influence. Alabama prison privatization, private prisons in Alabama

Need to catch up?

Private Prisons' Revolving Door With Government
CCA, the largest private prison company in the country, is the "poster child" company for this. Harley Lappin, CCA's Executive Vice President & chief corrections officer, was a former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But the relationship between CCA & government began as soon as the company was formed
CCA was founded in 1983, but its roots can be traced to the late 1970s. Tom Beasley, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, was at that time serving on a committee charged with choosing a new state corrections officer. Beasley's research revealed a system plagued by high turnover, tight budgets, and overcrowding. The experience made him begin to wonder if there might not be a private sector solution to this growing public sector problem. 
By 1983, Beasley was convinced that the application of a few simple business practices could transform the corrections system from an inefficient bureaucracy into a profitable enterprise. He recruited his former West Point roommate, Doctor ("Doc") Crants, as well as Terrell Don Hutto to help bring the concept into being. The troika's talents and experience melded excellently. Beasley had vital political connections. Crants brought an M.B.A. and a law degree, both earned at Harvard, to the table. Hutto possessed sterling corrections credentials, having not only directed two state prison systems, but also served as president of the American Correctional Association.
"We're on the ground floor of a multibillion-dollar industry," Beasley gushed to Financial World in 1985. 
The door swings both ways. In 2010, New Mexico Corrections Secretary Joe Williams came under fire when he declined to penalize two private prison companies who had amassed violations for inadequate staffing levels and improper record keeping during their operation of the state's prisons. 
For years Williams, who worked as a warden for GEO Group before joining Gov. Bill Richardson's cabinet, has not collected penalties against his old employer and Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) despite increasing evidence that both firms regularly violated a contract rule requiring certain staffing levels at the four facilities they operate.
Stacia Hylton, President Obama's Director of the US Marshals Service, ran a private prison consulting company that had a $112,000 contract with the GEO Group. She ran this company while still working for the DOJ as a federal detention trustee.  In 2010, the US Marshals Service accounted for 19% of the GEO Group's revenue.  

There's Money In Them Thar Prisons!
If anything, Tom Beasley underestimated the growth potential of the private prison industrial complex. CCA's stock performance has been on a sustained company pays regular dividends to stockholders. Earlier this year, Politico magazinetermed the company "a Wall Street darling with a market cap of nearly $3.8 billion. Similarly, GEO Group, the second largest private-prison operator, last week reported $1.52 billion in revenue for 2013."
As stock prices and profits rise, so do executive salaries. Private prison operators often point to lower prison overhead costs compared to public prisons, but generally fail to compare their executive salaries to public sector executive salaries. The private prisons may actually have lower overhead, but the savings are coming from the wages & benefits of the average prison worker and not the guys at the top:

From a 2008 paper presented to the American Society of Criminology in 2008: 

Alabama private prisons

In contrast, private prison guard salaries are often much lower than public corrections officers. In Kentucky (which has since severed it's relationship with CCA), the company's wages were low even by Kentucky standards:  

The pay at the Otter Creek prison is low, even by local standards. A federal prison in Kentucky pays workers with no experience at least $18 an hour, nearby state-run prisons pay $11.22 and Otter Creek pays $8.25.

In Arizona, where a Department of Corrections 2011 study found no savings for the state from privately operated prisons, CCA nonetheless managed to save quite a bit on salaries: 

CCA pays correctional officers only $10 to $12 an hour while correctional officers in Arizona state prisons earn $18 to $20 an hour, said Chuck Foy, executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. The Phoenix-based union has about 3,500 members.
Keep in mind that this "industry" that Beasley & his partners helped create is 100% dependent on government contracts - although CCA itself seems reluctant to contribute to government coffers. From SourceWatch

CCA, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol CXW, took in nearly $1.7 billion in revenue in 2013, 100 percent of which came from taxpayers via government contracts. It had profits of $300 million in the same year--almost double the previous year's profits.[2] In early 2013, CCA transformed itself into a real estate investment trust (REIT), a restructuring designed to reduce the payment of federal income taxes. In the first quarter of 2013, the firm realized a $137.7 million income tax benefit related to the company's recent conversion into a REIT.[14]

In New Mexico, in 2013, CCA sought exemptions from state & local taxes and even sought a refund of the previous three years' worth of payments to the state.

The dispute was over a prison in Torrance County that housed federal inmates, and withdrawal of local taxes could have cost local governments tens of thousands of dollars per month. The largest city in the county was already operating on 4-day weeks as a "cost-saving" measure.  

Private prison companies don't just use their financial success to reward executives and pay accountants for tax-avoidance schemes though. They spread the money around to lobbyists and political candidates.

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Part 3: Who Profits From Prison Privatization?

by: countrycat

Tue Dec 16, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

As we saw in Part 2 of this series, the United States has a long history of using the prison system to pad the profits of private businesses. Previously, it was done through in-house prison labor or the convict leasing system, but now there is an entire industry built on taking government out of the prison business entirely. This process is sold to state legislature & taxpayers as a "cost saving," but someone still pays.

Alabama prison privatization
Need to catch up?

The for-profit prison system is dominated by three companies:

The Web sites of all three companies stress three main points:

  1. Private-public partnerships save money.
  2. Private prisons are safe for inmates & employees.
  3. Don’t believe the first two? Let us show you studies to prove it!

Today, we’ll look at the first claim. Tomorrow, in Part 4, we'll discuss how the private prison companies have become the darlings of Wall Street. And on Thursday, Part 5 will take a look at whether private prisons are a good deal for inmates and/or employees.

Private Prison-Funded Temple University Shows Private Prisons Save Money
All three companies cite a 2013 Temple University study that claims cost savings and other benefits from prison privatization. But they fail to note one important point: all three companies funded the study. After the study was complete, the authors submitted numerous op-eds to newspapers and did media interviews. Yet they admit that, in many cases, they failed to offer full disclosure about their funding source. This summer, the university investigated ethics complaints filed against the professors, but declined to publicize the results.

Another critic of the study emphasized problems with the methodology, and called the funding criticism a distraction and “low hanging fruit.” Here is his ”Open Letter to CCA” in PDF format.

The money quote:

First, the study fails to account for dramatic demographic differences among populations housed in any one of California’s 34 public adult facilities and your 4 private adult out-of-state facilities in which 8,600 CDCR prisoners currently reside.

Second, the research fails to acknowledge your company’s practice of securing health-related contractual exemptions, an exercise that effectively inoculates you from having to house exceptionally “high-cost” prisoners.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the practice of incarcerating the least expensive California prisoners artificially deflates your per diem rates while correspondingly inflating the cost of operating in-state public prisons, precisely the types of facilities that don’t have the financial luxury of “cherry picking” young and healthy individuals.

So which types of individuals are you contractually obligated to house?

The answer: 8,600 of the youngest, healthiest, and least expensive CDCR prisoners. These exemptions — exemptions negotiated by your company - represent significant financial externalities (re)absorbed by the state. Surprisingly, they aren’t once mentioned in the Temple report.

Despite their conspicuous absence from the study, these exclusions absolutely must be considered in any public-private cost-comparison analysis because prisoner health care outlays account for 31 percent of the entire CDCR budget and represent the single greatest line-item expenditure after “operations / security.

Some of this argument might sound familiar to people who have followed the debate over charter schools. It’s been constantly alleged that charter schools are essentially allowed to cherry-pick the “best” students - meaning those already motivated to do well and who have parents who are involved with the family and with the school itself.  Special needs kids and those requiring remedial help often don’t last long at some charter schools - if they get admitted at all.

Public schools aren’t allowed to be selective: they take all comers. So do public prisons. So when we’re comparing costs of public vs private prisons, it’s important to understand exactly who is in which prison and why.

Another Temple University Study Explains The Difficulties Of Studying The Issue

Temple University's Stephen Belenko conducted a survey of state reports and found what virtually every other researcher has found: it's almost impossible to compare public & private prisons on a case-by-case basis because the variables... well... vary. How do you compare the operating costs of a 50 year old building housing maximum security inmates to a brand-new, energy efficient facility housing minimum to medium-security inmates?

Given the scope of cost items that need to be taken into account, and the difficulty of collecting the data to accurately estimate these costs, it is not surprising that some studies end to underestimate both public and private prison costs. The costs of land acquisition and construction for privately-operated prisons may not be fully accounted for if paid for with public funds. Public agency operating cost estimates often ignore land acquisition, construction, major maintenance, central administrative costs, and costs borne by other government agencies. Private prison costs are often underestimated by not including public agency administrative costs from those categories listed above. Capital outlays may be ignored for site purchase, design costs, construction, major expenditures for new equipment, urniture and fixtures, or allocation of depreciation for equipment purchased in previous years, although these costs may be amortized into the reimbursement rate to private prison operators.


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Part 2: History of Prison Privatization: Making Crime Pay

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 15, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

The South didn’t just lose houses, cities, & other infrastructure during the Civil War, many prisons were destroyed as well. After the war, the former Confederate states struggled to rebuild, and quickly found a way to make crime pay - for state government and business. Now referred to as “slavery by another name,” the system of leasing convicts began before the war.  However, after the war, leasing became far more widespread, as did the corruption associated with it.

Alabama prison privatizaiton

Need to catch up? Read Part 1 of the series - an introduction to the prison system problems in Alabama. Part 3 is "Who Profits from Privatization?"

Alabama Was the First State to Lease Convicts
Many people associate the concept of making money from prison labor with the South, but it other states experimented with it as well. In the 1820s, New York State set up in-house prison workshops where prisoners made goods for state government and the private market. Prior to the Civil War, prison labor projects were less widespread in the Southern states. After all, they already had plenty of “real” slave labor, so the economics of prison labor were less attractive.

That changed after the war, when Southern states desperately needed to rebuild.

If there’s a bad public policy idea floating around, history suggests that Alabama will be an early adopter. Convict leasing began here in 1845, expanded enormously after the war, and lasted until 1928. It was a good financial deal for the state - but not for the prisoners:

In 1883, about 10 percent of Alabama's total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately 10 times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died. Possibly, the greatest impetus to the continued use of convict labor in Alabama was the attempt to depress the union movement.

Surprisingly, expansion of the convict leasing system after the war was pushed by the “Republican Reform” governments. Convict labor was in use in the North and was seen as a modern way to run prisons & benefit industry.

Lower Production Costs = Bigger Profits
While working conditions for prison laborers in other parts of the country were no picnic, they were abysmal for prisoners in the South, but great for business owners:

More than a quarter of the coal coming out of Birmingham’s pits was then mined by prisoners. By the turn of the century, TC&I had been folded into J.P. Morgan’s United States Steel complex, which also relied heavily on prison laborers.

All the main extractive industries of the South were, in fact, wedded to the system. Turpentine and lumber camps deep in the fetid swamps and forest vastnesses of Georgia, Florida and Louisiana commonly worked their convicts until they dropped dead from overwork or disease. The region’s plantation monocultures in cotton and sugar made regular use of imprisoned former slaves, including women. Among the leading families of Atlanta, Birmingham and other “New South” metropolises were businessmen whose fortunes originated in the dank coal pits, malarial marshes, isolated forests and squalid barracks in which their unfree peons worked, lived and died.

Under this system, there was little or no oversight of contractors. The state had its money and the businesses had cheap labor it could work to death:

Living quarters for prisoner-workers were usually rat-infested and disease-ridden.  Work lasted at least from sunup to sundown and well past the point of exhaustion.  Death came often enough and bodies were cast off in unmarked graves by the side of the road or by incineration in coke ovens.  Injury rates averaged one per worker per month, including respiratory failure, burnings, disfigurement and the loss of limbs.  Prison mines were called “nurseries of death.”  Among Southern convict laborers, the mortality rate (not even including high levels of suicides) was eight times that among similar workers in the North — and it was extraordinarily high there.

Labor To The Rescue
The convict leasing & prison labor systems had a lot of stakeholders: states, businesses, local law enforcement, the judiciary - all had a financial interest in the system. One important group on the outside though, was workers. Prison labor depressed wages in the larger economy and made good jobs harder to get.

The appeal of prison labor is clear: low wages, no benefits, and insolent workers quickly get punished or removed, courtesy of the government. Employers preferred this compliant work force & many skilled workers were replaced by prison labor.

In 1917, the Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Volume 7, wrote about organized labor’s opposition to prison labor. The Molder’s Union protested against the low wages paid to inmates, the low prices paid by contractors, and “all the advantages given prison firms which have enabled them to undersell the employers of free men.” (pp 129-130)

This fight led to the addition of “the union label” to manufactured goods. It was a way to distinguish prison-made good from those made by “free men.”

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Part 1: Profit & Politics in Alabama Prison Reform - An Introduction

by: countrycat

Sun Dec 14, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

Alabama’s state prisons are at 192% capacity & under federal investigation for poor conditions & abuse of prisoners. Conditions in county jails are even worse. State Senator Cam Ward spent the last year warning about a federal takeover of state prisons and predicts that the Legislature will be forced to take action during the next session if the state wants to avoid that scenario: 

Private prisons & privatizatin in alabama 

You know we love to proclaim ourselves to be a state that prides itself on the 10th Amendment but we would really be disregarding that pride we have if we totally let the federal courts come in and take over our prison system, and I think that's what's on the verge of happening. So I think we have to step up and make some bold political choices or else we're going to have a third or fourth of our general fund budget controlled by the federal government.

Prison reform won’t be easy and it will take money, but Alabama’s a state that recently discovered a $700 million hole in the state budget.  So where will the money come from?

Ward quite reasonably suggests starting with sentencing reform:

For example, it costs you $41 a day per inmate to put in the state prison... however, I could put that same nonviolent offender into a community corrections facility and it costs you $11 a day. Why wouldn't you take a nonviolent offender, save $30 per day per inmate putting them in a community corrections facility where they have to work and basically pay back their restitution, as opposed to putting them into a $41 a day lockup that quite honestly does nothing but create a masters' degree in criminals?"

Unfortunately, some in the Alabama legislature never saw a problem that couldn’t be solved by throwing money at corporations, and the industry already has a privatization advocate - John Zierdt, Jr. - traveling the state holding public meetings on prison reform

John Zierdt Jr. is an advocate for privatization and suggested the state examine how similar arrangements, specifically with the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), are working in neighboring states.

"I think they offer a very good solution," Zierdt said. "It's a good solution for us because you don't have to do capital expenditures. It's something I think really needs to be looked at."

Public Good vs Private Profits
In Alabama, when the public good gets in the way of private profits, public good usually ends up as a grease spot on the pavement. Private prison companies know about the problems in Alabama prisons & they’d love nothing more than to take over our state prison system.

That’s not hyperbole: in 2012, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sent letters to 48 states offering to buy their prisons. The company asked for a 20-year management contract and assurance of at least 90% occupancy. 

Alabama legislators are masters at short-term thinking. Anything that gets them safely past the next election cycle (like a $1 million special election to allow them to loot the state savings account) is likely to gain more favor than a reasonable, long-term solution that costs now, but pays off in the future.

And a short-term infusion of cash money in exchange for Alabama’s prisons could well prove irresistible to our tax-phobic governor & GOP supermajority. Even if they don’t go quite that far, it’s more than possible that private companies could be brought in to manage public facilities.

With this in mind, we’ve been researching the issues surrounding prison privatization in America. The modern version began during the 1980s and the trend is accelerating sharply.  Stay with us this coming week as we kick off our seven-part series: Profit & Politics in Prison Privatization

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The Jason Childs Show

by: Jasonisus

Thu Dec 11, 2014 at 22:11:23 PM CST

( - promoted by countrycat)

Join us this Sunday at 4pm as we talk to the Vice-president of Medical Cannabis Advocates of Alabama, Sharon White. Sharon, formally with AMMJC, has been a patient's rights advocate for four years and has been at the front lines of this con...troversial issue. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws legalizing the use and production of Medical marijuana for qualifying patients. It is time for the lawmakers to let the people vote and decide what medicine they use to treat their illnesses. We will also have progressive news you can use, and the most important thing-You. hear is a link to the show http://tobtr.com/s/7184199 Call in with your questions or comments, or email your questions to the show at jasonisus@gmail.com
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What To Do If You're Stopped By Police

by: countrycat

Tue Dec 09, 2014 at 08:27:02 AM CST

This simple sentence: "I do not consent to this search," is one of the most important tools you have to protect your constitutional rights during a police stop. What else can you do? The ACLU's New York state affiliate has produced a phone app & palm card titled "What do to if you're stopped by police."

There's an English version, a Spanish version, and a downloadable iPhone app.

From the intro page:

We all recognize the need for effective law enforcement, but we should also understand our own rights and responsibilities — especially in our interactions with the police.

This card tells you what to do if you are stopped, arrested, or injured in your encounter with the police, and how to file a complaint.

Suprisingly, many people don't know their rights.  Maybe they were absent that week in Civics class or just haven't watched enough Law & Order. But we live in a time when our privacy rights are being chipped away: it's important for people to push back and claim their Constitutional rights. 

Refusing a warrantless search may irritate the officer, but does not give him/her probable cause to conduct a search. It's not up to you to prove you have nothing to hide; it's up to law enforcement to convince a judge that there's a reason to conduct a search.

Sure, you may have nothing to hide, so what's the big deal if you let police search your car, pockets, or home without a warrant? Here's the answer:

  1. It's your constitutional right.  
  2. Refusing a search protects you if you end up in court.
  3. Saying "no" can prevent a search altogether.
  4. Searches can waste your time and damage your property.
  5. You never know what they'll find.

The police officers I know personally are great people who took a hard, dangerous job.  They'll never, ever get rich on a public employee's salary, but that was never the goal. Unfortunately, there are some bad apples in the bunch, and you never know when you'll meet up with one of them.  

Whatever you do when dealing with police officer, always stay calm.  There's plenty of time later to file a complaint. Know your rights.  Be prepared.  Stay safe.


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"Thank You, You Too!" Good Advice For This Holiday Season

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 14:47:41 PM CST

It's almost time for Fox News to start the annual braying about the fake "War on Christmas" - or maybe they already have; I haven't bothered to check.  It's truly amazing what people will find to argue about, and the "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" has to be one of the stupidest controversies ever.

As this neat little graphic (full-size graphic from Facebook) shows, the proper response to any holiday greeting is simple:  "Thank you! You too!"

Holiday Greetings

Oh, and want to read from commentary from the edge of reason? There's actually a book titled "War on Christmas," and the reviews on Amazon are pretty fun reading.  Here's one of the more moderate ones:

The only real War against Christmas was centuries ago, waged by the Puritans, who banned Christmas. It used to be common for businesses to be open on Christians, and Christmas used to be another work day at the US Capitol. After the Puritans were deposed, Christmas became legal again, but Dickens' story A Christmas Carol is what really revived it.

People have said that Christmas used to be bigger, but that it is somehow being "taken away from us." It is not. Christmas used to be in fact much smaller. We now have Christmas merchandise on stores before Halloween. It wasn't always like that, it used to be that Christmas merchandise only went up well into December. As such, the Christmas shopping season encompasses many holidays: Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, New Year's Day and others. Businesses aren't being "PC", they want to keep you shopping as long as possible.

 This little book actually sounds like a much more fun holiday read: "The Man Who Invented Christmas."

Have a wonderful holiday season - no matter what holiday you celebrate or don't celebrate!


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State Senator Del Marsh Wants To Define "Legitimate Journalism" In Alabama

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 08, 2014 at 09:58:39 AM CST

There's a price for shining a bright light on Speaker Mike Hubbard & his legislative cronies. News & opinion Web sites & bloggers that annoy leadership may have more limited access to legislators in the upcoming session.  It's because "they're not real journalists," according to State Senator Del Marsh.


While a free and open press is vital and necessary, there are some who are attempting to hijack the profession by promoting raw political agendas from the confines of the press gallery — this is not freedom of the press, it is deceitful and wrong.

While Marsh's concern for journalistic standards is touching, it's also none of his business. I know that the only part of the US Constitution most members of his party are truly interested in are the 2nd & 10th amendments, but - like it or not - that pesky first amendment with its protections for speech, press, & assembly is still front & center - and you don't have to run a physical printing press to claim that right. Let me direct Senator Marsh to a source he's likely familiar with: the Heritage Foundation.

The free speech and the free press clauses have been read as providing essentially equal protection to speakers and writers, whether or not they are members of the institutional press, and largely regardless of the medium—books, newspapers, movies, the Internet—in which they communicate. 

Senator Marsh protests that he has no problem with most journalists; his beef is with "paid political operatives" pretending to be journalists:

While a free and open press is vital and necessary, there are some who are attempting to hijack the profession by promoting raw political agendas from the confines of the press gallery — this is not freedom of the press, it is deceitful and wrong.

Wow, Senator, you might need to have that burr under your tail surgicaly removed: it seems to be making you a little cranky!

Surprisingly, Marsh is not talking about Cliff Sims in this rant, but rather Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter.

Britt has been on the Hubbard/GOP corruption story for years now, and Hubbard's indictment finally vindicated his coverage.  Britt soldiered on in the face of ridicule & withering personal attacks that questioned not just his journalistic ability but his personal ethics and honesty. And you know what?  He turned out to be right all along.

No wonder Marsh is pissed off and flailing about looking for a "solution" to this problem of legislative watchdogs invading the boys club he has set up down in Montgomery. The big question that remains is: will the Alabama press corps go along with this charade?

Several past and present members of the Capitol press corps reporters have indicated to us that they do not fear this process because they agree that paid political operatives must not be allowed to disguise themselves as journalists.
We have not yet taken any concrete action in this regard, and there is no guarantee that we will. I simply asked for a conversation to start with the full input and insight of those who represent legitimate news-gathering operations across Alabama.

When this story first broke, I had several people ask if LIA had ever been denied press credentials in Montgomery.  The answer is no, but we've never applied.  We've always been totally up front that we run a community political blog and our content is mainly fact-based opinion.  However, we have done some great (IMO) original reporting on state education lotteries, the prepaid college tuition program, followed the money in the 2010 election, and investigated other important issues.

Here's what distinguishes our coverage from mainstream reporters: we arrive at the beginning of an event & stay until the end.  This was particularly important during the PACT crisis.  The TV stations & print reporters would stay for part of the board meetings & might even hang around for the PACT parents' meetings afterward.  But only for a few minutes to get some footage & a couple of bland quotes.  The real fireworks at those meetings (generally attended by then-Treasurer Kay Ivey & then-Lt. Governor Jim Folsom) didn't start until after the "legitimate" media had left.

We offered you video footage that told the whole story instead of a 20 second clip & segue to the latest heartwarming pet story.

I've never considered myself a professional journalist, but I know that I spent more time researching,  analyzing, and reporting on the causes of the PACT debacle than any "legitimate" journalist in this state.  They're rushed & under pressure; I understand that.  It was easier to get a quote from Kay Ivey's latest press release than it was to comb through 6-year-old PACT board meeting transcripts.

Are we "legitimate" at Left in Alabama?  Is the Alabama Political Reporter "legitimate?" That's really for the readers to decide.  Not Senator Del Marsh.


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Huntsville City Schools Create Buffer Zone - Protesters' Parking Lot Is Closed

by: countrycat

Sat Dec 06, 2014 at 11:50:30 AM CST

The battle over the location of the Alabama's Women's Center took another turn this past week when the Huntsville City School system barricaded the driveway of the protesters' favorite parking lot - the empty school across the street from the clinic.  This is just the latest twist in what has been termed "the most interesting abortion fight in America."


Author Matt Osborne (a former LIA regular!) wrote about it at Breitbart Unmasked:

This ‘buffer zone’ hypocrisy has already spilled into the school parking lot. When the city got tired of forced-birth activists treating it as their rally point, workers blocked off the lot with a plastic orange net. But as you can see in the animated .GIF below, which I made with pictures taken by a clinic volunteer this past Saturday, they don’t let pesky things like traffic control devices get in the way of their weird hobby.

You'll have to go to Osborne's article to view his GIF, but it's worth the trip!

Anyway, the school system finally got tired of this nonsense and dispensed with the ineffective orange barricade.  There are now actual locked gates at every entrance with "No Trespassing" signs attached to each gate.  While I'd love to say this was the school system taking a stand on the issue of choice, it's more likely due to concerns about liability.  The school building is being refurbished and is a construction site.

And if we know anything for sure about street preacher Henderson it's that he likes to file frivolous lawsuits!

But still, this is good for the clinic because now this sprightly group of ne'er-do-wells will have to haul their chairs, bizarre signs, and large collection of bullhorns from parking places farther away.

It's ok, guys! Exercise is good for you.


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Book Review: The Half Has Never Been Told - How the US Economy Was Built on Slavery

by: countrycat

Sat Dec 06, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CST

The Institute for Southern Studies has spotlighted a new book that needs to make it on everyone's reading list: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery & the Making of American Capitalism (hardcover or Kindle edition).  If you're wondering how we got to now and why the legacy of slavery & racism still infects our American psyche, culture, & politics.... well..... you need this book.

The echoes of yesterday resonate in the present.  I can't help but juxtapose some of the book review with the grating copy from some old Alabama history textbooks that we highlighted on the blog several years ago.  The difference between the two perspectives is quite remarkable.


The slaveholders developed a brutal system for speeding up the work of the cotton pickers. Each day as the sun finally set, the men, women, and children who had toiled all day in the fields were forced to submit their baskets of cotton for weighing.

If they did not meet the growers' production requirements, they were whipped, with a newly developed weapon that left open wounds. Slaves fled the weighing station in terror when they knew their baskets would be "light." But they never escaped the punishment.

Once the slave laborers had shown they could pick the required weight in a day, the slaver would increase his demand.

In this way, the average weight picked in one day increased from 28 pounds to over 100, while the production of cotton increased from 1.4 million pounds in 1800 to 2.2 billion by 1860.

From Alabama History for Schools, 1961:

The master supervised both the driver and the overseer.  Occasionally, a master had a pair of binoculars and watched distant workers from the upper story of his plantation house.  Thus the stage was set for some lazy field hand who went to sleep beside his job to get the surprise of his life from the master who had been watching him with the field glasses!

From the review:

Baptist explores many aspects of Southern culture that helped enforce slavery, including the objectification of black women as sexual objects. Male slave owners justified brutal abuse of enslaved women by characterizing black women as promiscuous and welcoming of violent sex.

Black men, meanwhile, were characterized as rebellious, untrustworthy, and violent.

Things didn't get much better after slavery.  Alabama History for Schools also discussed the KKK:

The Ku Klux movement included a number of secret organizations of which the Ku Klux was the best known, and of which the Knights of White Camellia were the most numerous. [...] In general, the Ku Klux was the organization of north Alabama and Tennessee, and the Knights of the White Camellia was the organization of south Alabama and of Louisiana.  In any case, the purpose of all these organizations was much the same.  Night riding, intimidation, and whippings were sometimes resorted to, but the very names of the organizations sufficient to improve the behavior of many wrongdoers. 
The Ku Klux of Reconstruction days was not anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, or anti-foreign.  It was anti-Radical.

The most important reason for the ending of the Ku Klux movement was that a better method of combating Radicals was discovered in the one-party system.  Men, who before the war had been Whigs, Democrats, Know Nothings, Secessionists, and Anti-Secessionists all banded together as Conservative Democrats.  Many Negroes supported them.

While a LOT has changed today, it hasn't changed enough, as the review notes:

Such stereotypes live on today. You can see them, for instance, in police violence and the media portrayals of protests in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and countless other communities. The stereotypes endure, unfortunately, in the minds of too many white citizens as well. 

This isn't reading for pleasure by any stretch of the imagination.  To really understand where we are now, we have to understand where we were then. It's just not possible to separate the two because the actions, attitudes, & laws made by the generations before us do affect us still. Context matters, and so does history.

I strongly recommend you add this book to your reading list.


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Alabama State Boards Need You! Plenty of Vacancies & Boards That Need Diversity

by: countrycat

Fri Dec 05, 2014 at 14:10:11 PM CST

Rep. Patricia Todd is calling attention to the large number of vacancies on Alabama state boards & commissions and asking for volunteers.  In particular, she's looking for more diversity on state boards.  Alabama is a state that's more than half female & has a large variety of citizens of all races & backgrounds.  There's no reason that this part of state government shouldn't reflect that.

Alabama State Board Vacancies 

Here is the list of state board & commission vacancies from the Secretary of State's Web site.  Looking at the list, it's almost impossible to determine the actual membership of the boards & commissions because the membership info doesn't appear to have been updated since 2009.  Somehow, former SOS Beth Chapman (who resigned her office in favor of a more lucrative job at ALFA) neglected something as basic as updating the SOS Web site.  Her successor, Jim Bennett, who has otherwise been a pretty good Secretary of State, also let this slide.

For instance, here's a list of expired board seats. And here's a list of seats on the Alabama Citizens Corps Council. Note that the term of every person listed expired in 2011 and there are 3 vacancies.  Or are there? What about the other 18 people listed with expired terms? Go through the list of vacant positions, and you'll find this same issue with the membership of most state boards.  

Here's hoping that Rep. Todd has a good list to work from, and for sure contact her if you'd like to serve.  Her email address is: reptodd@gmail.com

Remember that the legislature quickly became famous for creating new committees & task forces to "report" on issues they don't want to deal with - and that many of those committees never met.  Does the state have the same cavalier attitude towards state boards as well?

Under normal circumstances, this inattention to the Web site might not be much of an issue.  Except for this: it's just one more example of how the GOP supermajority failed in its promise to bring more transparency, ethics, and accountability to state government.  I even hesitate to call attention to it, lest someone issue another no-bid contract to one of Bob Riley's cronies and cost the state a hundred grand or so for a simple Web site update.

It's not hyperbole, campers.  Let's look at the past four years:

There's nothing we can do about the Legislature for the next four years - unless even more resign to work in industry or spend some quality time in state prison - but many state boards & commissions are more powerful than you realize.  Take the state textbook board, for instance.  So review the list, find a spot, and toss your hat into the ring!


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The Jason Childs Show

by: Jasonisus

Thu Dec 04, 2014 at 23:52:43 PM CST

(Y'all listen on Sunday & help build progressive radio in Alabama! - promoted by countrycat)

Join us this Sunday at 4pm for a special episode highlighting one of the most incredible non profits in our state. Our special guest will be Shay Farley, J.D. She is the Legal Director at Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Shay received her Juris Doctorate from Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama in 2003 and began litigating with a small general practice firm. Quickly finding that the laws did little to protect, much less advance, the interests of the voiceless, she committed her energy to policy reparation. Since August 2005, Shay has worked at Alabama Appleseed, a state-level public interest policy advocacy. As Alabama Appleseed's Legal Director, Shay assists the Executive Director in the development and governance of organizational projects, coordinates internships, and manages all of Alabama Appleseed’s legislative activities. In addition, Shay directs Appleseed’s economic justice work, namely Payday and Title Lending Reform and Consumer Debt projects, as well as some criminal justice issues. In 2014, Shay was appointed to the Alabama Prison Reform Task Force by Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster). Shay maintains a deep conviction for utilizing her education to enhance the lives of others, particularly those in need of a voice. As acknowledgment for her devotion, she was honored with the Montgomery Advertiser’s King Spirit Award in 2011. This award recognizes young adults in the community who represent the vision, dedication and selfless spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy. Here is a link to the show http://tobtr.com/s/7151263
We will also have news you can use, and the most important thing- You. Call in with your comments or questions or e-mail the show with them, jasonisus@gmail.com
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Celebrate The Season With Democratic County Committees & Groups!

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 13:58:29 PM CST

The LIA inbox is getting flooded with party invites from around the state & we want to share the information with the LIA community.  It's a great way to ease into the holiday season, make new friends, & network for future elections.  2016 will be here before we know it, but in the meantime, let's eat, drink, & be merry with our fellow Alabama Democrats!

NOTE:  Some events are taking place in private homes, & we're reluctant to publicize people's names & addresses here on the blog.  Please use the RSVP email address to get location information & let them know you're planning to attend.

Blue River Democrats & Tuscaloosa County Democrats -- Monday, Dec. 1, 5-7 pm sorry for the late notice!
We will partner with our Tuscaloosa County Democrats and have our holiday party on Monday evening, Dec. 1, Chuck's Fish.  The TCDEC voted to give Chuck's $200 extra for food so we should have plenty. You can also order from the menu. We will also take up cash for the staff at Chuck's.  We will also have a band!  For more info, contact Shelia Hayes: shayes51@comcast.net

Shelby County Democratic Party - Friday, 12/5 6:30pm
Join us for a holiday Celebration Pot Luck at 6:30.
Please RSVP as soon as possible, to Rafael at rafaob@bellsouth.net. And you don't have to live in Shelby to attend, of course! Everyone is welcome.

Madison County Democratic Women's Holiday Coffee - Saturday, 12/6 10am-noon.
Enjoy delicious home-baked treats, coffee, and wonderful company at this annual event.  Email nanapats0319@gmail.com to RSVP & get directions.

Over the Mountain Democrats Holiday Party - Sunday, 12/7 3-5pm
Food & drink, adult beverages and parking shuttle are provided for your $10 donation. There is limited street parking available, so once it's gone, please go to Avondale School, 4000 8th Court So, for plenty of free parking. We have a shuttle van continuously running back and forth between the Holiday Celebration and the Avondale School parking lot. It's a short, 'straight shot' up and down 42nd St. between the 2 locations.

To help us plan properly, please RSVP to otmrsvp@gmail.com. Reservations are not required, but are certainly appreciated!


If your Democratic group is planning a special holiday event, please let us know in the comments & we'll add the information to the blog post.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


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"Shared Sacrifice" = "Solid Hickory Desks?" Alabama Legislators Spend $1.2 Million on Chambers

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 11:00:00 AM CST

Alabama may be looking at a $700 million hole in the budget over the next few years, but that doesn't mean state legislators should suffer. Remember: these guys & gals pulled down a paltry sum of about $53k in 2012 to attend 30 - count 'em thirty! - legislative days of work.  They shouldn't be asked to work in any sort of sub-standard conditions (that's for coal miners), so these amazing stewards of the Alabama budget spent $1.2 million to renovate the legislative chambers.

The Alabama Senate chamber has gotten a nearly top-to-bottom makeover that includes include new carpet, woodworking, a new microphone system and solid hickory desks made by inmates in the state prison system.

Senate Secretary Pat Harris said the price tag for the renovation should be just under $200,000.
The Alabama House of Representatives installed a $1 million system that records, displays and stores all legislative votes. House Clerk Jeff Woodard said it replaces a system that repeatedly malfunctioned last year.

All the dysfunction that took place last year during the legislative term & the only malfunction that House members want to fix is the vote counting system?  Guys, you need to get your priorities straight.  I'm confident that, for over a hundred years, the Alabama House was able to accurately count votes & store voting histories without the aid of a $1 million piece of equipment.

This is just another example of how the GOP supermajority is all talk about fiscal responsibility. they made a big show of "reforming" their pay system in 2012, remember?  The plan ties legislative pay to the median income in Alabama - a number that's readily available from the US Census.  A state employee could look it up on Google in under a minute. However, the state issued a $72,000 no-bid contract to have a consultant look it up instead.

Then there's Speaker Mike Hubbard's Versailles-like redecoration & budget increases for the Office of the Speaker.

We're stuck with these clowns for the next four years.  Imagine how much more money they'll waste before Alabama voters finally get fed up.


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