Corporatocracy Part III: Civil Liberties and National Security

Once again, I apologize for the late post. I’m back from my travels now and will be posting on schedule again.

I’m pleased to present the third part of the Corporatocracy series. While there will be at least one more post in this series, tomorrow’s post will be focused on the counterterrorism speech President Obama gave today and discussing its implications for national security.

Surveillance

In the wake of 9/11, our government recognized that a major problem with our security apparatus was that our various law enforcement and intelligence agencies didn’t share information about potential threats. As a result, different agencies had different pieces of the puzzle that could have helped us predict or avert the attack, but no one was able to put them together.

One way we responded was to create “fusion centers” for basically every police force in the country. Fusion centers were meant to facilitate intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies at various levels (local, state, national). However, they increasingly started to work with private companies that provide some of the infrastructure we view as necessary to national security. However, this public-private partnership morphs into a situation of public resources being used to benefit the private companies, at the expense of the civil liberties of the public.

This has led to local police forces as well as the FBI monitoring domestic, peaceful protest movements such as Occupy. And instead of helping make sure various agencies were aware of potential national security threats, as intended, the fusion centers became a tool for warning big banks and other corporate entities of impending peaceful protests being planned by activists.

This information being passed along to bankers didn’t just come from social networking sites, either. Undercover police actually attempted to infiltrate Occupy Phoenix gatherings in Arizona.

I can think of a few better things undercover officers could do besides hang around vegan coffee shops spying on political activists. Maybe some of them could try solving the unsolved murders or sexual assaults we have in this country, for one thing.

All this really just scratches the surface of this excellent article and even more excellent report, but we’ll move on.

Private prisons

This deals with not only civil liberties, but also national security in the most basic sense: that of an individual’s actual, physical security.

The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. We keep more people behind bars than even such notorious human rights abusers as Russia and China.

And more and more, we are counting on private companies to keep those inmates behind bars for us. In a twist that should surprise no one, basing a company’s profits on imprisoning people leads to some horrific abuses.

One of the most outrageous is examples is the scandal known as the “Cash for Kids” case. Here’s the basic outline of that story: teenagers and children as young as 11 were tried for such heinous offenses as throwing a sandal at a parent or (heaven forbid) calling the police calling the police when his mother locked him out of the house.

After perfunctory hearings, usually lasting around 4 minutes, these kids and thousands more were sent to a privately run juvenile detention center. And it turns out the judge who heard all these cases was being paid by the head of that detention center.

And the problem extends well beyond that case. The private prison industry averages profits of about $1.7 billion annually. The biggest company is the Corrections Corporation of America, but others are getting in on the action too.

Of course, some of those billions of profits get spent on lobbying Congress to ensure that the revenue stream that is American prisoners keeps on flowing. Private prisons are key interest groups who push for things like zero-tolerance policies and mandatory sentencing for nonviolent offenses, as well as nonsensical immigration policies requiring that those who enter the country illegally and are to be deported must first serve sentences in immigration prisons.

And as the revolving door spins, we see administrations like that of Jan Brewer in Arizona, a state with some of the harshest immigration laws on the books, being staffed with former private prison lobbyists.

The fundamental problem with private prisons is this: prisons are generally paid a set amount by the state for each prisoner they house. So profits depend on two things: housing more prisoners, and spending as little on these prisoners as possible. That means sentencing more people to longer terms for even minor, nonviolent crimes, and treating them as poorly as possible.

While we have rightly denounced the prison scandals at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the treatment of prisoners right here in the U.S. is a scandal just as offensive to human dignity and American ideals.

Final Thoughts

The corporate influence over policy on domestic surveillance and the justice system don’t make us safer. In the first case, it smothers the freedoms of association and expression we proclaim to hold dear. In the second, it destabilizing families and communities and fundamentally violates protections against arbitrary and cruel punishment. This is all just one more way that public resources are being subsumed by private interests, at the expense of the American people.

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