By Chuck Armsbury
Private prison companies, most notably Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), anticipate increased stock performance and profits in near future. With governments short on cash and prisons overcrowded, these vampire capitalists don't favor or expect reductions in state or federal prison populations and construction. "In what might be a revealing commentary on our country's state of affairs, the nation's private prison companies look like solid investments for the next several years," claims award-winning New York financial adviser Michael Brush.*
Brush writes that "Corrections Corp., for example, trades at about 22 times 2005 earnings estimates, at the low end of its historic 22 to 25 range. The Geo Group appears cheaper, with a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 14. But at $26, it trades at the 12-month price target recently set by one analyst. (As the leader, Corrections Corp. deserves a premium valuation.)"
"Founded in 1983, Corrections Corp. was the first company to privatize prisons in the United States. It's also the biggest, with 54% share in the private prison sector. So it's likely to get a big piece of the business from state and federal prisons trying to cope with overflows," Brush advises potential investors.
Plain talk about profiteering on incarcerated people isn't 'breaking' news to most Razor Wire readers. But emotionless dollars-and-cents analysis of the financial 'good' that comes from massive over-incarceration still offends and enrages one's conscience, right? Is it merely a joke or oxymoron that capitalist morality isn't moral? What a strange land where any thing can be for sale when the dominant standard of socioeconomic success is making profit? Do leading capitalists routinely denounce profiteering on children traded or sold in the international sex markets? Do some big bankers refuse the obscene profit to be gained from laundered drug trafficking money?
Comedian Bill Maher has a new rule: Not everything in America has to make a profit. Maher, long-time drug war critic, seems particularly troubled by the evident profit-on-everything US economy and culture. On the July 24 episode of Real Time With Bill Maher (HBO), Maher reminds us that "war profiteer" used to be a "bad thing, but now our war zones are dominated by private contractors and mercenaries who work for corporations." **
Maher's right: unlike previous US wars "there are more private contractors in Iraq than American troops," paid generous salaries to launder troops' clothing and do other work usually done by the soldiers themselves.
The funny man then ridicules for-profit prison corporations, singling out CCA "on the New York Stock Exchange, which is convenient since that's where all the real crime is happening anyway." Maher is incensed that "CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money." It's no wonder why the US is world's leading jailer "because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line."
Maher weighs in heavy on profiteering in the news media and health-care industry, too. "When did the profit motive become the only reason to do anything? When did that become the new patriotism? Ask not what you could do for your country; ask what's in it for Blue Cross/Blue Shield," snarls this angry white man.
Winding down his rant, Maher asks "if medicine is for profit, and war, and the news, and the penal system, my question is: what's wrong with firemen? Why don't they charge? They must be commies. Oh my God! That explains the red trucks!"
Using humor and ridicule Maher insists that profit-making is the ONLY morality in capitalist ideology. And yet what should we think about the morality of 'covering' or 'socializing' big bankers' greed and losses with recent billion-dollar handouts of public funds? How about one of the greatest cons of all: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. Not since the revolutionary 1960s have I witnessed such intense, national discussion over socialist and capitalist economies and their differing visions of the future.
Seriously, now, how can we ordinary folks do much to solve longstanding social problems that apparently can best, or only, be illuminated by comedians? Calling on the power of unity and common purpose seems obvious, a first step, but too often in vain in today's highly individualized, competitive, capitalist culture. Has cynical outlook and disenchantment won the day? Has 'me first' become a drumbeat in each of us? Not completely -- renewed unity in 2008 among diverse voters put Barack Obama in the White House, and millions of hopeful supporters who stood shoulder-to-shoulder at his January inauguration still dream of real change in our country. More than ever, we need those millions to stand up for the wrongly convicted and over-punished prisoner class.
Somewhere between salivating prison profiteers and decent businesspeople lies some common ground for morality, vision and alliances with the languishing movement to end the drug war, decarcerate our prisons, and strengthen local communities. No matter where you are, build unity with people daily in words and deeds, and stand up every chance you get to educate and activate locally and in your state for real change in criminal justice philosophy, policies, practices, and especially initiatives for alternative sentencing and earned release from custody.
As always, stay in touch, share this issue with others, and help advance November Coalition's mission with your money, time and commitment.
* Online at www.moneycentral.msn.com
** Online at www.hbo.com/billmaher