March 14, 2014

Understanding Domestic Violence: Why should medical students care, what should they know and do

I spoke over at the University of Michigan's Medical School to a student organization about domestic violence. I like how the presentation came out, with T-shirts and art by survivors liberally inserted with content and links. Because of the pictures, the original files are a bit large, but feel free to download, use, update.

Understanding Domestic Violence: Why should medical students care, what should they know and do

Download .pdf of presentation (2MB)

Download presentation as .pptx  (22MB)

Read on Scribd

April 19, 2013

The Problems with Private Prisons

I have followed up my co-authored Punishment for Sale book by giving several presentations, which I have posted below. The first is a general overview of concerns and critiques about private prisons that I presented at the International Criminology Congress in Kobe, Japan in 2011. The second is one I did for a statewide forum on prison privatization, mass incarceration and prison reform here in Michigan in 2013. While the latter is more specific in focusing on Michigan, its analysis is applicable to other states.

 The problems with private Prisons (2011 - International Criminology Congress)

Problems With Private Prisons (2011)

In case the embedded viewer does not work, it is available here via Scribd and as a .pdf from PaulsJusticePage.

Download the original Power Point .pptx slides.

The problems with private Prisons (2013 - Michigan Statewide Forum on Prison Privatization, Mass Incarceration and Prison Reform)

Problems With Private Prisons (2013)

In case the embedded viewer does not work, it is available here via Scribd and as a .pdf from PaulsJusticePage.

Download the original Power Point .pptx slides.


Information on Punishment for Sale from Amazon.com

Information from publisher: Rowman and Littlefield

An earlier blog entry about Punishment for Sale.

November 24, 2012

Criminology Needs More Class: Inequality, Corporate Persons and an Impoversihed Discipline

My presentation at the 2012 American Society of Criminology conference was entitled Criminology Needs More Class: Inequality, Corporate Persons and an Impoverished Discipline (#occupy). It is a condensed and updated version of the Sidore lecture I gave, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Inequality, Corporate Power and Crime.

ABSTRACT:Criminology generally does not collect data on class, which is more likely to be "controlled” for than explained. The discipline is interested in psychopaths engaged in street crime but not white collar crime or the harms done by corporate “persons” who act without conscience. Strain theory is taught without reference to economic facts about wealth distributions or economic mobility. This paper provides an overview of class, reviews some of criminology’s blind spots and reaffirms class as important for a “rich” understanding of criminology.

Criminology Needs More Class: Inequality, Corporate Persons & an Impoverished Discipline

Download .pdf of presentation (3.5mb)

Download .pptx of presentation (6.8mb)

March 17, 2012

Inequality, Corporate Power and Crime Presentation

I had the pleasure of being invited to give the Saul Sidore lecture at Plymouth State University last week. It was titled The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Inequality, Corporate Power and Crime.

The first part of the lecture is an overview of class, including income, wealth, economic mobility and corporate power. It is descriptive rather than making a moral or justice argument (although it does report on some surveys on our feelings about inequality). 

The second part discusses implications of inequality for criminology based on Braithwaite's idea that inequality worsens both crimes of poverty motivated by need and crime of wealth motivated by greed. It includes a number of Occupy Wall Street posters, graphics and pictures. 

If you would like to view the presentation below, use the left button to switch to the full screen mode so all the text is legible.

Inequality, Corporate Power and Crime

The 39 slide Powerpoint (.pptx - 10mb) is available here.

The .pdf (3mb) is here.


Of related interest: Gregg Barak - my co-author on Class, Race, Gender & Crime - has written a short article on the Financially Respectable Crimes of Wall Street; he also has a the introduction posted from his forthcoming book Theft of a Nation: Wall Street Looting and Federal Regulatory Colluding.

UPDATE: While at the Sidore lecture, I met student journalist Wanda Waterman, who interviewed me on some other issues. Part 1 and Part 2.


December 03, 2010

TSA 'Pornoscan': Here's what it looks like

For all the discussion about whether the body scans by the Transportation Security Administration is appropriate, I have seen few photos. In this case, I think it is important to have this as a data point, so we know what we are talking about as far as an invasion of privacy goes. Then, we can talk about the benefits and tradeoffs.

So, here's a screencapture of a .pdf that was part of a challenge by the Electronic Privacy Information Center against the scanners.  They have copies of their briefs and those filed by the Dept of Homeland Security, so this is a good place to review the arguments for yourself. (I still haven't seen a scan of a female body that I believe was an authentic capture of a TSA scan, but when one is released I sure it will add more fuel to the fire.)

TSA body scan image - front only

Click for a larger version that includes the

person's back side as well

 

For those interested in some excellent discussion - better than I can provide -- check out the posting by security expert Bruce Schneier.  He is one of the parties challenging the use of scanners, so he is not a neutral party, but his blog and books on security are always thoughtful and deserve consideration. Read, for example, his discussion on airport security generally or "security theater" ("security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security").

ISSUES: 

1. Is it dangerous? I'm skeptical that the TSA will be candid about the risks.  The best info I have seen is here, noting that the comparison of a scan to a few minutes of actual airplane flight is misleading. The type of radiation is different, and what is put out from the scanner:

this means that the X-ray source used in the Rapiscan system is the same as those used for mammograms and some dental X-rays, and uses BOTH 'soft' and 'hard' X-rays. Its very disturbing that the TSA has been misleading on this point. Here is the real catch: the softer the X-ray, the more its absorbed by the body, and the higher the biologically relevant dose! This means, that this radiation is potentially worse than an a higher energy medical chest X-ray.

The author poses these questions:

Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, ... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc be exposed to during such a failure. What is the failure rate of these machines? What is the failure rate in an operational environment? Who services the machine? What is the decay rate of the filter? What is the decay rate of the shielding material? What is the variability in the power of the X-ray source during the manufacturing process? This last question may seem trivial; however, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory noted significant differences in their test models, which were supposed to be precisely up to spec. Its also interesting to note that the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory criticized other reports from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and a group called Medical and Health Physics Consulting for testing the machine while one of the two X-ray sources was disabled (citations at the bottom of the page).

2. Does it make us safer? The explosive of choice at the moment is PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), which is in the same family as Semtex. Schneier comments that

The problem is that no scanners or puffers can detect PETN; only swabs and dogs work. What the TSA hopes is that they will detect the bulge if someone is hiding a wad of it on their person. But they won't catch PETN hidden in a body cavity. That doesn't have to be as gross as you're imagining; you can hide PETN in your mouth. A terrorist can go through the scanners a dozen times with bits in his mouth each time, and assemble a bigger bomb on the other side. Or he can roll it thin enough to be part of a garment, and sneak it through that way. These tricks aren't new. In the days after the Underwear Bomber was stopped, a scanner manufacturer admitted that the machines might not have caught him.

3. What about privacy? A Washington Post column suggested: 

Although the Supreme Court hasn't evaluated airport screening technology, lower courts have emphasized, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that "a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it 'is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.'"

In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both "minimally intrusive" and "effective" - in other words, they must be "well-tailored to protect personal privacy," and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate "in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search."

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito's tests.

For those who like to protest, there are T shirts with the 4th Amendment printed on them in metallic ink, so they words show up on scans of the body.  (There's a more provocative one - based on the concern that images of kids would constitute child porn - that says "read the 4th amendment, perverts".)

Just so we're all on the same page, the 4th Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Remember that the framers of the Constitution were overthrowing the English King, whom they described in the Declaration of Independence as a "tyrant," and they had concerns about strong federal government that are reflected in our founding documents. (see earlier blog postings on habeas corpus, aka The Great Writ or “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Brandeis: “They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty”.)

CONCLUSION

In a column about the difficulty of securing the Washington Monument, Schneier suggests we close it down "empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears" and a symbol of our lawmakers' "inability to truly lead." He continues:

Terrorism isn't a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed -- even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail -- even if their attacks succeed.

We can reopen the monument when every foiled or failed terrorist plot causes us to praise our security, instead of redoubling it. When the occasional terrorist attack succeeds, as it inevitably will, we accept it, as we accept the murder rate and automobile-related death rate; and redouble our efforts to remain a free and open society.

The grand reopening of the Washington Monument will not occur when we've won the war on terror, because that will never happen. It won't even occur when we've defeated al Qaeda. Militant Islamic terrorism has fractured into small, elusive groups. We can reopen the Washington Monument when we've defeated our fears, when we've come to accept that placing safety above all other virtues cedes too much power to government and that liberty is worth the risks, and that the price of freedom is accepting the possibility of crime.

If the point seems naive, consider the tactics of terrorism and how low-cost attacks (from the terrorists' perspective) cost us extensively in increased security measures (a "security tax" that affects the economy). The thoughtful Global Guerrillas blog noted:

Al Qaeda's choice of a demonstration was to use parcel bombs (called Operation Hemorrhage -- a classic name for a systems disruption attack).  These low cost parcel bombs, were inserted into the international air mail system to generate a security response by western governments.  It worked.  The global security response to this new threat was massive.

Part of effective systems disruption is a focus on ROI (return on investment) calculations.  As paraphrased in Inspire:  it is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks.  We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot, so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy.  (this shift is a clear attempt to avoid limitations of blood and guts terrorism by adopting systems disruption as outlined in this article)

To demonstrate this ROI, Inspire listed the costs of the investment in the operation:

    • Printers:  $300 each
    • Nokia mobile phones:  $150 each
    • Shipping and transportation:  short $$
    • TOTAL COST:  $4,200

It's pretty clear that the security costs inflicted as a result of this operation are counted in the millions of dollars, making for an impressive return on investment for the operation.  ROIs from systems disruption can reach one million to one.

Bin Laden's plan is to keep poking at us to cause expensive over-reactions. An article in Foreign Policy called "Death by  a Thousand Cuts" noted: 

The economic strategy of jihad would go through refinement. Its initial phase linked terrorist attacks broadly to economic harm. A second identifiable phase, which al Qaeda pursued even as it continued to attack economic targets, is what you might call its "bleed-until-bankruptcy plan." Bin Laden announced this plan in October 2004, in the same video in which he boasted of the economic harm inflicted by 9/11. Terrorist attacks are often designed to provoke an overreaction from the opponent and this phase seeks to embroil the United States and its allies in draining wars in the Muslim world. The mujahideen "bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt," bin Laden said, and they would now do the same to the United States. 

Who can play this game longer: the terrorists or the US/US economy?

FURTHER READING

My chapter, Demystifying Terrorism: 'Crazy Islamic Terrorists Who Hate Us Because We're Free'? The full text of that chapter is available on this site, and as a preview I answer that they're not crazy.

March 17, 2010

Punishment for Sale: Private Prisons, Big Business and the Incarceration Binge

One of my offline projects has been a book on private prisons I've been writing with my friend and colleague Donna Selman. I'm pleased to say the book is now out and available: Punishment for Sale: Private Prisons, Big Business and the Incarceration Binge (Rowman and Littlefield, 2010). Those who have been reading the blog, my websites or other books will not be surprised that the book is critical of the impact for-profit, Wall Street traded, multi-billion dollar international prison business have had on justice and public safety.The book is relatively short (240 pages) and cheap (about $25 new).

(more below the image)

 cover photo, Punishment for Sale: Private prisons, Big Business and the Incarceration Binge by Selman and Leighton

At the end are some links to more information, but this is a Box explaining the book. It comes from the forthcoming third edition of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, which I just finished copyediting (that book will be available over the summer). Yes this is either cross-promotion or shameless self-promotion, depending how you look at it. 

 

Box 10.1 [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed]

Punishment for Sale: Private Prison, Big Business, and the Incarceration Binge

Chapter 2 [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed] identified privatization as one of the major trends that would continue to exert an influence on the criminal justice enterprise. Privatization refers to the practice of outsourcing government functions and services to private, for-profit business under a contract with the government. Punishment and incarceration may seem like odd functions to privatize, but private prisons are a multi-billion dollar a year business and the two largest firms – Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group – are multinational businesses that are traded on Wall Street. 

In a recent groundbreaking examination of prison privatization, criminologists Donna Selman and Paul Leighton argue in Punishment for Sale (2010) that understanding the nature of the contemporary criminal justice system requires understanding privatization, including the business model and financial dynamics of these firms. It’s not just a multi-billion dollar business, but CCA has a billion dollar credit line with various powerful Wall Street investment banks. They – and all the shareholders – ensure that the private prison firms are managing the business risk factors that they must disclose in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Risk factors include not getting enough inmates from government to be profitable, sentencing reform (like the repeal of certain mandatory minimum sentences), steps toward the legalization of drugs, and immigration reform.

While these are controversial topics, the debate over justice policy needs to be on the merits of reform – not based on the financial interests of wealthy shareholders and Wall Street. Indeed, research demonstrates that private prison firms have already influenced public policy to their own benefit through campaign donations, and they have rejected a shareholder proposal to fully disclose donations and lobbying money. (They have also voted down proposals to make the performance incentive piece of executive pay include criteria related to the absence of human rights or labor violations.)

Selman and Leighton (2010) argue that privatization was born from two trends. First, the relentless war on crime and war on drugs caused massive prison overcrowding. Extremely costly prison expansion and renovation were the inevitable results of “getting tough,” but it ran into conflict with politicians’ other favorite lines about lower taxes and less government. Second, President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that “government is the problem,” and he set the stage for anti-government politicians to privatize a range of services. The historical moment was ripe for several politically well-connected individuals, backed by the same venture capital that facilitated the expansion of Kentucky Fried Chicken, to use private funds to build their own prison and collect money from government to house inmates from overcrowded facilities. 

As briefly noted in this chapter [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed], the incarceration binge has been costly and ineffective – —and has contributed to social injustice (especially racial). Selman and Leighton (2010), after developing these points more fully, argue that private prisons were born from an oppressive war on crime and the future of their business depends on the continuation of those dynamics. Companies traded on the stock exchange owe a basic duty to shareholders to grow and become more profitable, regardless of the impact on others or on justice. 

Privatization has several important implications for understanding the intersections of class, race, gender, and crime. First, in a variation of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison (Reiman and Leighton 2010), with prison privatization the rich whites get richer because the poor minorities go to prison. As noted in chapter 3 [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed], stock ownership is concentrated in the hand of relatively few wealthy families who are mostly white. As noted in this chapter [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed], those going to prison are disproportionately minority – and private prisons have a substantial number of contracts to house immigrants (including detained families). Racial fear means business and profits for private prison companies. 

Second, chapter 2 [of Class, Race, Gender & Crime, 3rd ed] noted that private prison firms pay substantially less than their government counterparts for prison staff, a point that generates opposition to privatization from unions. (Median earnings for all correctional officers and jailers were $35,760, but private prisons paid $25,050.) But private prison firms also pay their executives substantially more than the head of a Department of Corrections who manages substantially more inmates. For example, the cash pay (excluding stock awards and options) of the CEO for the GEO Group was almost $3 million in 2007 for having 54,000 beds under supervision. The Director of Corrections for Michigan was paid just over $200,000 that year for having almost 52,000 inmates under supervision and a parole and probation caseload of another 200,000 people (Selman and Leighton 2010).

Paying those at the top substantially more while paying those at the bottom substantially less directly contributes to income and class inequality. This process is exacerbated by additional fees at the top to the Board of Directors, who make $50,000 a year at CCA and $60,000 a year at GEO, plus fees for attending various meetings (including a compensation committee that decides how much the executive gets paid). In comparison, the median household income in 2007 was $50,230, so the pay for the part-time director position of a private prison was more than what half of all U.S. households earned from all their employment responsibilities (Selman and Leighton 2010). Overhead costs for the directors, SEC lawyers, consultants, mergers and acquisitions, “customer acquisition” (advertising and lobbying), shareholder lawsuits, and shareholder relations mean a wide variety of criminal justice workers will have lower wages and less economic security than if they had a government job.
  

End of Box
From the back cover:
“With a reputation for pursuing social justice, Donna Selman and Paul Leighton expose the realities and consequences of privatized prisons. Punishment for Sale deserves to become standard reading for professors, students, and activists concerned about the expanding neo-liberal campaign to outsource criminal justice.” —Michael Welch, professor, Rutgers University
“Donna Selman and Paul Leighton have presented a cogent summary of the connection between the free market mentality that dominates American society and the use of imprisonment as a solution to the problem of crime. As the authors show so clearly, while crime may not pay, punishment certainly does, as it is a very profitable enterprise. This book will leave its mark.” —Randall G. Shelden, University of Nevada-Las Vegas; author of Our Punitive Society: Race, Class, Gender and Punishment in America
“An important book that sheds new light. Using Congressional testimony, SEC filings, and copies of actual contracts obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Punishment for Sale documents the heedless profiteering of neo-liberal prison firms that fails taxpayers, criminal offenders, and the American people. The explicit class analysis offered here documents how the AIG-style mentality of corporate America has once again capitalized upon our refusal to honestly address the sources of crime, preferring instead to profit handsomely from its existence. As Donna Selman and Paul Leighton so aptly put it: ‘In this case, the rich get richer by way of the poor getting prison.’ Required reading.” —Michael Hallett, professor, Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of North Florida
Punishment for Sale is the definitive modern history of private prisons, told through social, economic, and political frames. The authors explore the origin of the ideas of modern privatization, the establishment of private prisons, their business dynamics and the efforts to keep expanding in the face of problems and bad publicity. The book draws on corporate documents, analyzed within the framework the prison-industrial complex, to tell the story of private prisons and their effect on criminal justice; it is intended for supplemental use in undergraduate and graduate courses in criminology, social problems, and public policy.

Donna Selman is assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University. She has contributed to the book Battleground: Criminal Justice.

Paul Leighton is a Professor of criminology and criminal justice at Eastern Michigan University. He is a coauthor of Race, Class, Gender, and Crime, and is the founder of StopViolence.com—a resource for non repressive responses to violence prevention.

For orders and information please contact the publisher
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
1-800-462-6420
www.rowmanlittlefield.com
ISBN:   978-1-4422-0172-9 (cloth)
ISBN:  978-1-4422-0173-6 (paper)

[end of back cover]

Information from Amazon.com

Information from publisher: Rowman and Littlefield

Information on Class, Race, Gender & Crime (the 2nd ed does not contain the box above, but information contained in the link will be updated when the new edition comes out)

More information on private prisons (current "crime pays" section of paulsjusticepage.com. This will be updated and moved <eventually> to a section related to Punishment for Sale.

February 24, 2010

A Professor of White Collar Crime Reviews USA's 'White Collar' series

A standard critique of media portrayals of crime includes an over-emphasis on street crime compared to white collar crime. Yes, the law also emphasizes street crime over white collar crime -- the the summary of Ch 2 of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison -- but the media goes even further. When was the last time COPS, Law & Order, CSi, etc dealt with a white collar crime? Sometimes rich people end up on the show, but usually for committing a homicide or other street crime, not for corporate acts that harm workers, consumers, the environment and/or communities.

So, along comes the USA series White Collar. Neal, a convicted art forger, joins forces with an FBI agent to solve white collar crimes. Television is now dealing with white collar crime, right? Well, sort of. As I will explain below, the crimes that are portrayed are a narrow set of white collar crimes -- and they are ones that do not challenge abuses of power by corporations or government. I'll provide some examples of "ripped from the headline" events that the show will not touch. Finally, I'll raise the issue that USA's ownership by GE (which owns NBC Universal) might be a factor given GE's habitual offending over the course of decades (no 3 strikes and you're out for the powerful). 

My research, teaching and  TV watching

I like USA's Burn Notice, so the idea of a series about white collar crime caught my attention. Part of it was a professional interest, but I try to avoid rationalizing TV watching as part of my work. Still, I am a co-author of Class, Race, Gender and Crime (going into a 3rd ed); co-author of the ninth edition of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison; and I teach a class on white collar crime. I've seen most of the episodes of White Collar, thanks to repeats and not TiVo.

In the premier episode, I noticed a scene where Neal is in prison, sitting on a bunk with  scratch marks in the walls to count the passage of days. The show was trying to establish his motivation for cooperating with the FBI, but I was disappointed when the scene ended with swatting a bare light bulb hanging from cord and the bulb breaks. Please - prisons are designed so there is nothing around for the inmates to use to hurt themselves, each other or the guards. Electric cords are a no-no; there's not just the shock risk, but also a strangulation and suicide risk as well. Glass is a no-no; it can be used by a prisoner to cut himself (suicide risk here as well) and as a weapon. A light bulb, in the possession of someone patient with lots of time on their hands could potentially be turned into an explosive. When exposed to air, the filament gets red hot, so fuel from a lighter (yes, it would be contraband, but available) could be combined with a light bulb into something problematic. (I guess I should say I have also taught a corrections class.)

In spite of my critique above and below, I generally like the show. My critique is really about the politics of white collar crime. More specifically, my critique is that they have created a show about white collar crime that is non-political -- especially in an era where Wall Street just got huge bonuses for fucking up the world's economy. 

White Collar Crime and Power

Too frequently, white collar crime is about employee theft, bank tellers embezzling, and credit card fraud. In each of these cases, the perpetrators, white "white collar" professionals, are victimizing an entity more powerful than themselves (stores, banks, and financial institutions). What's missing from the picture are harms done by the powerful, usually powerful corporations and governments. 

White Collar follows the former pattern and not the latter. Counterfeiting is a crime against the government; the perpetrators may be rich and sophisticated, but still have less resources and power than a government. Art theft or the other variations in the show tend to be personal crimes: one on one crimes, either without a clear power dynamic or one in which an individual is protected from a more powerful group of obvious "bad guys" (organized crime, for example). Absent are episodes where someone with power and prestige who is seen as a respectable person victimizes the less powerful. This is really the essence of white collar crime and the common theme of most definitions.

"Ripped from the headlines" applied to White Collar

"Ripped from the headlines" is part of the advertising for Law and Order, which airs in (endless) re-runs on USA because of the ownership of Law and Order's production company. This gives the show a timeliness and vague "reality" that catches people's curiosity: "Although the stories tend to wander into make-believe, they rely on the lightly disguised depiction of real people and events for their immediacy and sense of authenticity," notes the Washington Post in an article about surviving family feel "blindsided" and violated when crimes appear on the show.

While using people's personal tragedies as fodder for popular TV without contacting them is not a model I would recommend for White Collar, a few "ripped from the headlines" examples might help clarify my critique about the apolitical nature of White Collar. This is a short list pulled from my recent bookmarks...

A Big Car Manufacturer that became became "a little safety-deaf." Yes, Toyota in real life, but the safety deaf quote was from Transportation Secretary LaHood, who noted some problems penetrating the corporate culture. He added that "For now, any car that's on the Web site needs to go back to the dealer because they're not safe."But there are many questions about whether the dealer's fix really solves the problem. To add to the intrigue, maybe a West Wing flare, we see that "Toyota heads to Capitol Hill with team of lobbyists, history of political giving" Can the FBI ensure that justice prevails even though the there's "a million bucks in donations, a million bucks to charities preferred by key members of Congress, a 32-person (and growing) lobbying operation -- what’s a little free speech among friends? I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but Toyota spent $45,000 feting Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), who, oh my gosh, happens to chair one of the relevant transportation committees readying for hearings on the company." It might not be Jack Bauer in 24, but lives are on the line.

A Treasury Secretary misleads Congress about how $700 billion will be spent: then Secretary Paulson said: "During the two weeks that Congress considered the [TARP] legislation, market conditions worsened considerably. It was clear to me by the time the bill was signed on October 3rd that we needed to act quickly and forcefully, and that purchasing troubled assets—our initial focus—would take time to implement and would not be sufficient given the severity of the problem." For those needing more explanation, a financial blogger explains "So Paulson knew 'by the time the bill was signed' that it wouldn’t be used for its advertised purpose – disposing of toxic assets – and would instead be used to give money directly to the big banks. But he didn’t tell Congress before they voted to approve the TARP legislation." At what point does misleading Congress and the public become a crime? Is it relevant that the biggest beneficiaries of the new and undisclosed plan was Goldman Sachs, where the Treasury Secretary was a former executive?

Added intrigue: The Federal Reserve asks AIG to keep quiet about the huge payments that went to Goldman (even a national security exemption! - but that wouldn't be believable on TV, would it?). Of course there are further issues about the payment of huge bonuses by those institutions receiving taxpayer money through TARP as well as the lobbying they are doing to defeat reform. (Some Way too much of it seems to be legal, but this could still be part of the plot, just as discussions about whether to charge and what to charge are part of the drama of Law & Order. )

Food processor as mass murderer, knowingly ships contaminated food that kills 5 and sickens 500:  The Peanut Corporation of America. Remember those hundreds of potentially contaminated products? The executive who would not eat any of the products when a Congressman offered him some at a hearing? The back story is that on 12 occasions of two years they had lab reports that confirmed salmonella and they shipped products anyway according to a Washington Post article. Investigation is hindered by the fact that companies are not required to report test results to the FDA. The FDA has no power to order a recall, so all they can do is pressure the company into a "voluntary" recall. Again, maybe not Jack Bauer, but real lives, real children died. More than a year later, no criminal charges, even though there's a very good case to be made for them.(There's another possible investigating similar concerns with hamburger.)

Pharmaceutical giant illegally markets drugs: Pfizer agrees to a $2.3 billion settlement over illegally marketing a drug. According to the New York Times, it was "the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine of any kind ever."  Reading further, it was "Pfizer’s fourth settlement over illegal marketing activities since 2002." The recidivism seems to be important as "the government charged that executives and sales representatives throughout Pfizer’s ranks planned and executed schemes to illegally market not only Bextra but also Geodon, an antipsychotic; Zyvox, an antibiotic; and Lyrica, which treats nerve pain. While the government said the fine was a record sum, the $2.3 billion fine amounts to less than three weeks of Pfizer’s sales." There's also an issue that this "occurred while Pfizer was in the midst of resolving allegations that it illegally marketed Neurontin, an epilepsy drug for which the company in 2004 paid a $430 million fine and signed a corporate integrity agreement — a company wide promise to behave." (More here and here). Illegal marketing mean higher costs to taxpayers as people on Medicare are prescribed drugs they don't need and/or higher doses of drugs, plus there are all the side effects that people have to deal with for medication they did not need to take.

As a related episode or subplot, the NYT reports that: "Newly unveiled court documents show that ghostwriters paid by a pharmaceutical company played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, suggesting that the level of hidden industry influence on medical literature is broader than previously known." (Yes, the companies write articles for medical journals about their drugs and "solicit" pay doctors to put their names on it.)

You get the idea. If not, see some white collar crime reviews on this blog.

Corporate Media

While some people would say the topics are boring and that's why they are not on TV, I'd point out the success of John Travolta's Civil Action (pollution from chemical company causes cancer); Julia Roberts' Erin Brockovitch (same); Al Pacino's The Insider (informant on tobacco company); and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.. If White Collar can create a drama around a stolen piece of art, why not some of the high stakes issues above. 

The problem more likely is corporate ownership of the media. Specifically, USA is owned by NBC universal, which is owned by GE. Here's part of the lowdown, which is in the opening of Chapter 8 of Class, Race, Gender and Crime (the forthcoming 3rd ed; the 2nd ed has a less detailed version). 

Now consider the case of General Electric, which is not considered a habitual criminal offender despite committing diverse crimes over many decades. In the 1950s, GE and several companies agreed in advance on the sealed bids they submitted for heavy electrical equipment. This price-fixing defeated the purpose of competitive bidding, costing taxpayers and consumers as much as a billion dollars. GE was fined $437,000—a tax-deductible business expense—the equivalent of a person earning $175,000 a year getting a $3 ticket. Two executives spent only 30 days in jail, even though one defendant had commented that price-fixing “had become so common and gone for so many years that we lost sight of the fact that it was illegal” (in Hills 1987, 191).

In the 1970s, GE made illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. Widespread illegal discrimination against minorities and women at GE resulted in a $32 million settlement. Also during this time, three former GE nuclear engineers—including one who had worked for the company for twenty-three years and managed the nuclear complain department—resigned to draw attention to serious design defects in the plans for the Mark III nuclear reactor because the standard practice was “sell first, test later” (Hills 1987, 170; Glazer and Glazer 1989).

In 1981, GE was convicted of paying a $1.25 million bribe to a Puerto Rican official to obtain a power plant contract. GE has pled guilty to felonies involving illegal procurement of highly classified defense documents, and in 1985, it pled guilty to 108 counts of felony fraud involving defense contracts related to the Minuteman missile. In spite of a new code of ethics, GE was convicted in three more criminal cases over the next few years, plus paying $3.5 million to settle cases involving retaliation against four whistleblowers that helped reveal the defense fraud. (GE subsequently lobbied Congress to weaken the False Claims Act.) In 1988, the government returned another 317 indictments against GE for fraud in a $21 million computer contract.

In 1989, GE’s stock brokerage firm paid a $275,000 civil fine for discriminating against low-income consumers, the largest fine ever under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. A 1990 jury convicted GE of fraud for cheating on a $254 million contract for battlefield computers, and journalist William Greider reports that the $27.2 million fine included money to “settle government complaints that it had padded bids on two hundred other military and space contracts” (1996, p. 350; see also Clinard 1990; Greider 1994; Pasztor 1995; Simon 1999).

Because of tax changes that GE had lobbied for and the Reagan tax cuts generally, GE paid no taxes between 1981 and 1983 when net profits were $6.5 billion. In fact, in a classic example of corporate welfare, GE received a tax rebate of $283 million during a time of high national deficits even though the company eliminated 50,000 jobs in the United States by closing 73 plants and offices.

Further, “Citizen GE” whose advertising slogan has been—“brings good things to life”—is one of the prime environmental polluters and is identified as responsible for contributing to the damage of 52 active Superfund sites in need of environmental cleanup in this country alone. In 1999, they agreed to a $250 million dollar settlement to clean up the Housatonic River in Massachusetts.

GE is responsible “for one of America's largest Superfund site, the Hudson River, where the company dumped more than a million pounds of toxic wastes including cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls over a period of decades, according to the EPA” (Center for Public Integrity 2007). Instead of cleaning up their part of the 197-mile site, they mounted an eight-year challenge to the Superfund law that requires polluters to remedy toxic situations they created. (GE’s corporate environmental counsel during part of this time, Ignacia Moreno, was appointed by President Obama to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Department of Justice.)

Even though felons usually lose political rights, GE donated almost $18 million to candidates in federal elections between 1989 and 2009 (Center for Responsive politics 2009), and they spent $191 million for lobbying between 1998 and 2009 (Center for Responsive Politics 2009a). In spite of having been convicted of defrauding every branch of the military multiple times, GE is frequently invited to testify before Congress.

GE also has the ability to shape public opinion through its ownership of NBC Universal, which owns NBC television (and A & E, USA, and others), MSNBC and the financial news outlet CNBC. Some call CNBC an “economic infomercial” because there’s a rather obvious but little discussed conflict of interest between owning a financial news outlet, being one of the world’s largest financial operations and receiving government support during the economic crisis.

GE created a number of finance arms to help people and companies buy its products, and those activities account for nearly half of their earnings in the last five years (Gerth and Dennis 2009). Most people know GE “for light bulbs and home appliances, but GE Capital is one of the world's largest and most diverse financial operations, lending money for commercial real estate, aircraft leasing and credit cards for stores such as Wal-Mart. If GE Capital were classified as a banking company, it would be the nation's seventh largest” (ibid). Although GE was not originally eligible for government support through programs enacted to help with the financial crisis, they engaged in lobbying and received $74 billion in loan guarantees that helped the company finance its operations at low cost (ibid).

For 2008, GE was the sixth largest company on the Fortune 500 list. If the corporation’s revenue were compared to the Gross Domestic Product of countries, it would be in the fifty largest economies in the world. With this kind of political, economic, and social power, it is easy to understand why “three strikes and you’re out” does not apply to the “big hitters” like GE.

Gee, I can't imagine why they wouldn't want a show about white collar crime that was "ripped from the headlines" and more importantly spoke truth to power. When you are the power, you shape people's vision of truth. And the the (corporate) truth is that crime isn't about what the rich and powerful do. Nothing to see here - check out the good looking guy dealing with white collar crimes about computer chips...

Listening to:

I want my bailout money

 

Paul

quixote.gif

Paul?
(about/contact)