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Bemoaning the Commoners at Club Fed

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Country club prisons just aren't the same since they started letting the riffraff in.

Back in the good old days, when a nice, respectable white-collar criminal went to federal prison, he could do his time playing tennis with crooked pols, embezzling bankers, book-cooking accountants and other high-class folks. Not anymore. Now, Club Fed admits all kinds of lowlifes.

"Despite widespread perceptions to the contrary, minimum security prison camps are not reserved for former congressmen and CEOs," writes Luke Mullins in the May-June issue of the American magazine. Now, these once-prestigious country club prisons are places "where the nation's elite -- professionals, politicians, corporate executives -- live alongside the indigent foot soldiers of the drug trade."

The folks at the American seem saddened by this egalitarian trend, but that's not surprising. The American is published by the American Enterprise Institute, the famous Washington-based right-wing think tank. In a perverse way, it's heartwarming to know that the AEI's devotion to the welfare of the rich does not stop when the rich are convicted of multiple felonies and shipped to the slammer.

Mullins paints a delightfully nostalgic portrait of "the good old days of the 1970s" at Lompoc, a country club prison in California that served as a comfortable home away from home for several Watergate conspirators and other elite felons.

"Back then inmates would order expensive chili from the legendary Chasen's restaurant in Beverly Hills, or maybe shoot a few holes of golf at a neighboring course," he writes. "Occasionally, an inmate would even sneak out for a late-night visit to the prostitutes who were huddled in the back of a Winnebago parked nearby."

Ah, those were the days!

Now, white-collar miscreants are forced to mingle with common street-level dope dealers. And they have to work for seven hours a day -- sometimes at jobs that are boring and unfulfilling and beneath them. And some of these former country clubs no longer have a tennis court -- or even a bocce court! And inmates are forced to wear tacky prison garb instead of their stylish street clothes.

The horror! The horror!

Rape is rare in these minimum security prison camps, Mullins reports, but fights sometimes break out. Frequently, the fights are caused by those lowlife drug dealers, who hog the communal TV sets and will beat you up if you try to change the channel.

And get this: "Each month, inmates can spend no more than $290 at the commissary and 300 minutes on the telephone."

That's less than $10 a day for snack food! And only 10 minutes a day for phone calls! What is this, Guantanamo? What next? Will they start waterboarding these poor guys?

"It's a hellish place, especially for a white-collar guy," says Alfred Porro, a crooked lawyer who served five years for 19 counts of fraud and tax evasion. "Your life is a big blah."

But there is one advantage to admitting lowlifes into country club prisons. Now, rich inmates like Porro can hire poor inmates as -- believe it or not -- maids.

"In exchange for fees," Mullins writes, "such inmates would clean your room, do your laundry or take care of any other small-scale inconvenience."

Money is not allowed in the prisons, so you simply pay your maid a few packs of cigarettes. Hey, that's better than in the outside world, where even the illegal immigrants expect to be paid with actual money.

Cheap labor is an idea that warms the heart of James K. Glassman, who is the editor in chief of the American. Readers of this newspaper may recall Glassman as The Post's op-ed columnist who never missed a chance to bang out a ferocious denunciation of minimum wage laws, which he regards as an affront to "every American who values personal and economic liberty."

There aren't many people around anymore who will fight for somebody else's God-given right to work for peanuts, but Glassman is one of them. That's why I was amused last fall to see that in the very first issue of the American, he published an essay called, "Why Do We Underpay Our Best CEOs?"

"The average CEO of a large, publicly traded American company now has an annual compensation of $10.5 million -- or about 300 times higher than the average U.S. worker," wrote Dominic Basulto in the November-December issue of the American.

Is that an outrage?

No way, says Basulto: "In fact, there's strong evidence that, far from being paid too much, many CEOs are paid too little."

Why? Because basketball players and hedge fund managers make more -- and that's just not fair.

If you like that logic, you'll probably love one of the pieces in the current issue of the American. It's called "The Upside of Income Inequality."

Fake News Department

Stop the presses!

This just in: Stories in the cheeseball celebrity magazines are not always entirely accurate! This is shocking news and I'm not sure whether I should believe it or not because I read it in one of the cheeseball celebrity magazines.

That magazine is Us Weekly. In its May 14 issue, Us published a two-page article titled "All the News That's Fake!" It showed the covers of four rival cheeseball celebrity mags -- Star and OK! and In Touch and Life & Style -- and reported that their cover stories weren't, you know, totally correct. For instance, In Touch's story "Surprise Boob Jobs" insinuated that Paris Hilton got breast implants, but Paris swears she only got a new bra.

This week, Us ran another exposé, called "Inside the Fake News Hoax," which charges that In Touch and Life & Style have been, like , so wrong about Brangelina for, like, years.

You can read that piece in the Us issue that has a picture of Hilton on the cover, above the words "Inside Paris' Jail Cell."

But wait a minute. Paris isn't in jail. At least not yet. So isn't Us being a little -- oh, never mind.

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