Justice Department will stop using private prisons


Steve McAlister/Getty

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”…

While experts said the directive is significant, privately run federal prisons house only a fraction of the overall population of inmates. The vast majority of the incarcerated in America are housed in state prisons — rather than federal ones — and Yates’ memo does not apply to any of those…even so, it’s the federal government setting a standard. Politicians who know privatization of prisons is a bad deal for everyone but investors now have backbone added to efforts at the state and local level to end the practice. The DOJ Inspector General’s report should play a significant role.

❝ “This is a huge deal. It is historic and groundbreaking,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “For the last 35 years, the use of private prisons in this country has crept ever upward, and this is a startling and major reversal of that trend, and one that we hope will be followed by others.”

Overdue.

Millennials are not owned by credit cards

saupload_hello_kitty_credit_card

Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that the percentage of Americans under 35 who hold credit card debt has fallen to its lowest level since 1989, when the Fed began collecting data in a standardized way…

Some older Americans have also been shedding credit card debt since the financial crisis that began in 2008. But for no other age group has the decline in the proportion holding credit card debt been more rapid than it has been for young Americans…the data from the Survey of Consumer Finances shows.

Their reluctance could have lasting repercussions for millennials, as well as for the financial system and the economy. Early use of credit cards has, in the past, helped young Americans develop a comfort level with credit that can last a lifetime and lead to a succession of big purchases financed by debt. Without a substantial credit history, it is much harder to take out a home mortgage, for example…

The resurgence of overall credit card use in the United States over the last year or two has been driven largely by subprime borrowers, according to the Federal Reserve…

But it is clear to economists who study payment patterns that millennials are gravitating toward payment methods that skirt both cash and credit. Why carry cash when you can whip out a debit card for the smallest transaction — a sandwich or a bottle of soda — or use an app like Venmo or an online payment service like PayPal? All of those typically draw funds directly from a bank account…

Recent data has also suggested that millennials are using credit cards less than people of a similar age did in the past — and that they are taking on fewer auto loans and mortgage loans than people of similar age did before the financial crisis.

Many young people carry burdensome loads of student debt, making it hard for them to take on any more debt — and giving them a sour taste in their mouths when it comes to credit of any sort. The average American under 35 now has $17,200 of student debt, 182 percent more than Americans of the same age had in 1995…

Then there are the young professionals who are able to get a card, but have seen the strain that debt put on their families and friends during the financial crisis.

There just may be another quality involved. I have no study at hand to prove it – but, I’m beginning to believe in what I call the George Carlin effect. That is, lots of young people already feel they have enough “stuff” without owning a car or a house.

Guess I’ll have to suggest the question to someone reliable – like the Pew Foundation. Maybe they’re already asking the question?

Looks like compulsory voting helps to make voters better politically informed?

voting in Oz

US college graduates are far better informed about basic political facts than Americans with only a high school education, according to studies by the Pew Research Center. And men tend to know more about politics than women. At the same time, the US also has infamously low voter turnout compared with the rest of the world. Recent scholarship on voting laws suggests that requiring citizens to vote would not only up turnout — it might also help boost overall political awareness…

…In 2012, just 53.6% of Americans turned out to vote, according to Pew Research Center. Compare that with 80.5% turnout in Australia, where voting has been mandatory since 1924 and failing to vote is punishable with a fine of A$20. In addition to Australia, 25 countries make national voting mandatory, including Belgium and Turkey…

But compulsory voting has the potential to do more than just increase voter turnout, according to a recent analysis by Jill Sheppard, a political scientist and survey researcher at the Australian National University. Her findings suggests that in nations that enforce mandatory voting, a wider demographic spectrum is politically informed than in other countries…

For the analysis, Sheppard uses data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, which measures political knowledge by how many correct answers a survey respondent gives to three country-specific questions. The CSES data come from 133 election studies, from 1996 and 2013, held in 47 countries.

The CSES data splits countries into four categories by voting policy: strongly enforced compulsory voting, moderately enforced, weakly enforced, and voluntary.

In countries where compulsory voting is strongly enforced, those who scored well on the political knowledge questions hailed from all educational backgrounds. Not so in other countries (including the ones where mandatory voting is less rigorously enforced), where well educated voters tended to be much better informed than everyone else.

The effect on the gap in political knowledge between men and women was illuminating as well. In general, men tended to answer more of the political knowledge questions correctly than women. However, in countries with compulsory voting, this gender gap in political knowledge was much less pronounced than in other countries.

In other words, compulsory voting somehow relates to the more even distribution of political knowledge throughout the electorate.

Sheppard’s study isn’t alone. Of course, there may be other variables as important to the process as compulsory voting – which may be an effect rather than a cause. But, this certainly merits further attention here in the GOUSA.

Of course, the likelihood of states and the federal government agreeing to mandate greater participation in one of the features of our democracy much abused by lousy choices ain’t better than the proverbial snowball in Hell.

Detainee used as a lab rat for CIA torture experiments coming up for a hearing on release from Gitmo


The whole world is watching

A man the CIA used as a guinea pig for its post-9/11 torture program will plead his case for freedom from Guantanámo Bay later this month…in perhaps the hardest challenge to date for Barack Obama’s intentions to empty the infamous detention center.

Zayn al-Ibidin Muhammed Husayn, better known as Abu Zubaydah, is one of three men the CIA acknowledged that it waterboarded, a process simulating drowning, at an unacknowledged prison in Thailand. At some point during his 14-year captivity by the US, he lost the use of his left eye.

The 23 August hearing, Guantánamo’s equivalent of a parole board, will present the first time Abu Zubaydah will have an opportunity to speak about his captivity – an opportunity that contradicts the CIA’s preferences. The CIA, per a landmark 2014 Senate investigation, has contended that he ought to be held incommunicado until he dies.

Yup. Why allow someone we tortured to testify about that torture – when we deny torturing anyone?

❝ “We anticipate our client will make a statement” at the hearing, said Zubaydah’s attorney, Joseph Margulies.

Abu Zubaydah presents the hardest test thus far for the Obama administration’s last-ditch attempt at vacating the Guantánamo detention facility through the quasi-parole process. While the much-tortured Abu Zubaydah may or may not be too dangerous to release – the criterion that a multi-agency Guantánamo tribunal known as a Periodic Review Board (PRB) will evaluate later this month – he knows a vast amount about CIA torture, which makes his ultimate release doubtful…

RTFA if you care to learn what our government did in the name of freedom.

…The CIA represented [his torture] to the Bush administration and Congress as a success, and subsequently tortured at least 118 others…

Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security, said the decision to permit Abu Zubaydah a hearing represented a boldness by the White House in its internal and congressional battles over closing Guantánamo.

“Abu Zubaydah is at the heart of everything that keeps Gitmo from closing: the issue of torture,” Greenberg said.

Most Congressional Republicans and many conservative Democrats have no problem with the United States torturing people. You know that. I know that. We share the same contempt for the excuses they lap up from CIA torturers and executioners.

The Senate finally voted to outlaw torture, last year.