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Privatization: The Radical Republican Plan to Steal Our Democracy [View All]

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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Dec-06-05 05:30 PM
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Privatization: The Radical Republican Plan to Steal Our Democracy
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The main theme of the eye opening new book, The Fox in the Henhouse How Privatization Threatens Democracy, by Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich, is self evident from the books title. The ideas for this post are largely taken from that book, though I held most of these ideas prior to reading the book.

Prior to the 2000 election I believed that the most important single issue facing our country was campaign finance reform because I felt that too much money in our political system was corrupting the system and threatening our democracy. But now I see that the Republican agenda has moved so far to the right that all the money in the world wouldnt allow them to win elections without the help of other aspects of the privatization movement most especially their control of the national news media and their control of our elections.

The privatization movement in the United States has been described by the Wall Street Journal as the effort to bring the power of private markets to bear on traditional government benefits and services. Kahns and Minnichs translation of this says it well: Privatization is letting corporations take over and run for profit what the public sector has traditionally done. I would change that translation slightly by adding to the end of it, and must continue to do in order to preserve our democracy.

One of the essential features of evil people is that they try to make people believe that down is up and up is down (Example: We are going to Iraq to spread democracy there). How else could they survive? Who would like these people or buy into their ideas if they were presented as they actually are?

That is the essence of the privatization movement. The rationale behind it is presented as good old fashioned American values: Self-reliance, freedom, competition, efficiency. We need to be able to expose how the meanings of those values are twisted beyond recognition by the privatizers so as to make their movement the antithesis of what those values are meant to represent.


Self reliance

When the privatizers use self reliance to characterize their privatization schemes, they are mainly using this as a code phrase to express contempt for our social safety net programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, workers compensation, and welfare for the poor.

A great deal can and has been said in justification of each of these programs, but since Social Security is probably the least controversial of these programs, Ill confine myself to that for this post: Social Security has been a program to which millions of people have contributed their hard earned money throughout decades of their working life. It is a program that spreads financial risk over a large population so as to reduce the risk of financial catastrophe, in the process reducing by a small amount the financial gap between the rich and the poor.

Consequently, it is a great and undeserved insult to impugn the self-reliance of people who receive and need Social Security checks. If those individuals who have retired and dont need Social Security checks to maintain their livelihood want to express contempt for those who do need those checks, we should ask them to disavow their own reliance on inheritance money, for example (they could contribute the money to charity or to reduce the national debt), thereby increasing their own self-reliance, and in the process expressing their patriotism and altruism.


Freedom

Of course nobody would want to say that they are against freedom so the privatizers aggressively try to equate their privatization schemes with freedom. But in doing so, they greatly oversimplify this very complex issue, for one persons freedom to enslave, for example, is another persons slavery. In fact, one of the most important and legitimate purposes of government is to put limits on the freedom of the powerful to intrude on the livelihood of the rest of us. Without that function of government we would have anarchy. And that, in fact, is exactly what the privatizers are advocating: The freedom of the powerful (themselves) to do whatever they want.

Consider environmental issues, for example. The privatizers speak of the need for people (themselves) to have the freedom to own as much land as they please and to do with it whatever they want, as long as they pay for the privilege. And, they also claim the right to pollute the air, water, and soil that they dont own. Disregarding the fact that they generally are required to pay no more than ridiculously low prices for these privileges (for comparatively small campaign contributions they reap huge profits), we need to have a national policy for land use and pollution control because the absence of such a policy will result in the deterioration of our natural resources in return for the short term profits of a few wealthy individuals. This will not only deprive our current population of the benefits of this land, but will deprive future generations as well. Here is a current example of the plan for the privatizers to take over our land.

Few American citizens are aware of the extent to which our election system has been privatized over the last several years, and they would be appalled to learn of this (I hope). If there is any government function that should not be privatized it is the running of our elections, since they provide the foundation for our democracy.

Yet, private companies now run our elections to a large extent. Their own employees have told us how easy it would be to rig their machines to help a specific candidate, and our General Accounting Office has told us that we should have little basis for confidence in the results of our 2004 election. Another voting machine employee has testified before Congressman Conyers Committee that he was asked to write a computer program that would transfer votes from one candidate to another and yet be undetectable. And under the banner of privatization, the voting machine companies tell us that we (the public) have no right to interfere with their freedom to run our elections by inspecting the codes that their machines use to count our votes . And they have so far succeeded in guarding that freedom that they claim, as they have successfully resisted numerous legal challenges to inspect the machines that counted our votes in the 2004 election.


Competition

The privatizers want us to believe that a program run by the government, by definition, lacks the competitive elements that ensure that only the best programs will be chosen to do the job. But the privatizers dont want competition. In fact, they will do whatever they can to eliminate competition, as long as they are the ones who benefit. I dont see them complain when Halliburton receives one no-bid contract after another.

As a moderate, I believe that there are many economic activities that should be left to the private sector, in order to foster a competition that will ensure that those with the best products will be appropriately rewarded. And, as Theodore Roosevelt recognized in the early 20th century, there is a need for government regulation to ensure that big corporations dont become too powerful and thereby eliminate competition.

But the privatizers do whatever they can to eliminate competition. They whine about any government regulation meant to foster competition, as an impingement on their freedom. Hence, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which eliminated much of our control over monopolies in the telecommunications industry, followed by consolidation and control of our national news media by a small number of powerful people. Consequently, our national (corporate) news media has largely become a megaphone for our Administration, thus representing perhaps as large a threat to our democracy as the privatization of our elections system.

As Bill Moyers says, in explaining the consequences of this: Never has there been an administration so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at large and in defiance of the Constitution from their representatives in Congress. Never has the powerful media oligopoly ... been so unabashed in reaching like Caesar for still more wealth and power. Never have hand and glove fitted together so comfortably to manipulate free political debate, sow contempt for the idea of government itself, and trivialize the peoples' need to know.


Efficiency

The privatizers and our corporate news media have for so long echoed the claim that privately run programs are more efficient than government programs that most Americans take that as a given. I am unaware of evidence that makes this case, but even if is was true to some extent, we need to look carefully at what is meant by efficiency.

For a corporation, efficiency is joined at the hip with making a profit. In fact, if a corporation makes a decision that is in the public interest but which hinders their ability to make a profit, they can be sued by their shareholders for that decision.

But the purpose of government programs should not be to make a profit. The purpose of government programs should be to serve the citizens who elected their representatives to enact and enforce those programs.

Take Public Health, for example. Public Health has been largely the responsibility of government in the United States for about two centuries. When a disease outbreak is in the making it is responsibility of governmental public health programs to take steps to stop that outbreak. A privatized public health program, on the other hand, may be encouraged to cut corners, in order not to impinge on their profits. It might even be to their advantage to allow the outbreak to spread widely, because that would provide numerous opportunities for even more profits.

Or consider our prison system. According to Kahn and Minnich, the increasing privatization of our prison system since the 1980s is responsible for at least three ominous trends: 1) As wealthy corporations take over our prison systems, recognizing that their profits are related to the size of the prison population, they lobby for legislation that will result in more prisoners. That may be one reason why we have seen a large increase in our already outrageously large prison population in the United States, paralleling the prison privatization movement; 2) Physical and sexual prisoner abuse is much higher in private than in public prisons. It costs money, which cuts into profits, to train prison guards to control this kind of thing; 3) Private prisons do not have to comply with many of the requirements for open decision making that public prisons must comply with. Therefore, corruption of all kinds is able to flourish to a greater extent in private than in public prisons.

And finally, why do you think it is that our military personnel must rely on patriotic groups in the United States to raise money for the protective equipment that they lack but need to enhance their safety?




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