“They used inmates? That’s unfortunate.”- Oregon University Vice Chancellor Bob Simonton
The radical fringes of American politics can be scary at times, but are a necessary component to our system. When the organization Critical Resistance put out a definition for the Term “Prison-Industrial Complex,” I confess to rolling my eyes and thinking “Cool story Bro. Pass it on to the left.” Allow me to be forthcoming. They were right, I swung and missed. It’s me who needs open his Overton Window a wee bit wider and let in a few ideas that don’t necessarily match my instinctive epistemological and moral tastes. I learned this because of a Crony Capitalist scheme hatched by Billionaire Government-Connected Crony Elon Musk and the condignly disgraced Governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber.
So Oregon decided to try and live up to its reputation as The Evergreen State. They decided that with Federal incentives to boost Green Energy, the time had come to make a major investment in Solar Energy Production. The Oregon University system planned on empaneling 27 acres of land by leasing it to a developer named REDCO which would wheel this power back to the OU system and then clean energy profits would ensue.
REDCO was unable to do the job and filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy protection six months after their bed won. This should have killed the deal dead. It didn’t because OU Vice-Chancellor Simonton and a corrupt government contractor named Martin Shain concocted a phony set of documents that misled the state legislature into believing the project was at a more advanced stage then where it truly stood.
Oregon now needed a contractor to complete the project. They hired two. One, Solar World, was a local company that promised Gov. Kitzhaber that they would use American Labor. The other company, owned by Elon Musk; Solar City, decided that Oregon only needed one company on the contract and proceeded to criticize Solar World’s ability to meet the contract standard. Colluding with Mr. Shain, Solar City put out the following analysis of Solar World’s capability.
SolarCity quickly took the shine off the contract, telling state officials that they were troubled by SolarWorld’s shaky financial condition. Shain, the state’s project consultant, echoed that view. “Deep concerns in the financial community about their liquidity are creating very difficult project finance issues,” he said in a Feb. 26, 2013, email to Maureen Bock, the Energy Department incentives program manager. Industry analysts at the time predicted SolarWorld was headed for insolvency and questioned its decision to manufacture solar panels in the West.
So Solar World was put off the contract and the project had another problem. Much of the labor requirement was subbed out to Solar World. Musk’s Solar City had to find strong backs. As Oregon hiked its minimum wage, this became an increasingly expensive problem – if we assume Elon Musk has any respect for the law. What Elon Musk did next would probably make Ebeneezer Scrooge wretch in contempt.
Under a subcontractor, Norcross, Georgia-based Suniva, the panel work went behind the walls at the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan. Inmates paid 93 cents an hour assembled the panels….. Craven acknowledged that using inmate labor “may not have been in the spirit” of the tax credit program. He said state officials knew prisoners were involved.
May not have been in the spirit of the tax credit program!? Dude, Man. That may not have been in the spirit of the Emancipation Proclamation. I’d hate to think what Dr. Simonton did to his Post-Docs. He thought it was “unfortunate” that Elon Musk subbed this out to prison labor at less than $1/Hr? He reminds me of a famous line from a Dr. Seuss Classic. “What a shame. What a shame. What a shame.”
So we know how it goes. Elon Musk did nothing illegal. Poor Dr. Simonton, he didn’t know. Governor Kitzhaber can regrettably only hang once. Everyone walks away clean and green. I’m sure Martin Shain will be on everyone’s rolodex. He’s proven worthy of a corner office on K Street. They should write that charming little illegitimate offspring into next month’s episode of House of Cards. There’s a lot of money to be flensed off of badly-structured Green Energy incentives.
Image Credit: University of Oregon