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Column: BP finds a way to outrage us again

AUSTIN, Texas -- With BP's well capped and CEO Tony Hayward exiled to Russia, perhaps you thought that the BP horror story is coming to a close, that surely there will be no additional revelations to enrage you. But now comes this: prison labor.

In its national PR blitz to buff up its image, the oil giant has loudly boasted that it has been hiring devastated, out-of-work local people to handle the clean-up. Many have been hired, but not nearly enough, according to the people themselves. The Nation magazine now reports a big reason for the shortfall. BP has been using inmates -- literally a captive workforce -- to do much of the shoveling and scooping to remove oil from Louisiana beaches. What a deal for BP! It gets very cheap workers who're guaranteed to show up on time, do what they're told and keep their mouths shut.

In the early days of the clean-up, crews suddenly appeared on beaches wearing scarlet pants and white T-shirts with bold red letters spelling out, "Inmate Labor." Investigative reporter Abe Louise Young writes that the sight of prison laborers outraged the local community, so they were removed.

Not the inmates, the uniforms! Now they wear BP shirts, jeans, and rubber boots with no prison markings, and they are moved to and from the job in unmarked white vans. How many are there? No officials with BP, the feds, or the State of Louisiana could or would tell Young. How much are the prisoners paid? A local sheriff's official told Young, "They're not getting paid, it's part of their sentence."

However, BP is getting paid for this labor. By you and me. Under a little-known tax provision passed during the Bush regime, corporations can get a "work opportunity tax credit" of $2,400 for every work release inmate they hire. To see Young's full article, go to www.thenation.com.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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