Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Be wary of more privatization

Joel Reinstein

Our incoming governor Rick Snyder has spoken in glowing terms of “public-private partnerships.” It’s a euphemism that more than deserves scare quotes.

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, it’s not unlike a partnership between a wolf and a sheep. In exchange for the sheep’s tax dollars, the wolf provides the badly needed service of devouring the sheep.

Privatization: a growing cancer that threatens democracy. It ultimately is the process of transferring ownership from the American people to a few of its wealthiest citizens, by way of deceit and greed. Inroads have been made in the privatization of prisons, the military, education and firefighting, among other things.

Although conventional wisdom holds that privatization is a partisan issue, reality tells a different story.

Even as conservative and liberal talking heads fulfill their assigned duties, saying predictable things for and against it, Democrats have privatized with essentially the same vigor as Republicans.

Take our outgoing governor Jennifer Granholm. She appointed Detroit Public Schools’ emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, who is attempting to turn over 17 public high schools to for-profit education firms.

(A judge recently struck this down, in a decision sure to be appealed).

Even as they’ve fallen over each other to lavish praise at Bobb’s feet, Detroit’s corporate-owned newspapers have had little to say about this. I wonder how a privately- run public school would cover the history of unions, or America’s “Gilded Age?”

I wonder if ANGEL, run by the for-profit corporation Blackboard Inc. is a good example of what happens when the private sector gets involved in education? Perhaps the University of Phoenix’s 9 percent graduation rate in Michigan would be a better example.

If you’re not sold on Democrats’ role in privatization, take a look at President Barack Obama. Even as his critics call him a socialist, his administration recently awarded a $120 million contract to Xe Services LLC, the for-profit mercenary group formerly known as Blackwater.

You might remember them as the people involved in weapons smuggling and the murder of civilians in Iraq, whose ranks have included former thugs of former-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Other private contractors hired by the military have been found — according to a bipartisan 2010 U.S. Senate report — to have funneled money inadvertently to the Taliban.

I already have written about the private prison industry’s involvement in Arizona’s infamous prison bill.

The bill matches almost word-for-word a model bill drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a self-described “nonpartisan public-private partnership” (there’s that euphemism again), whose members include the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America, the fifth-largest corrections system in the U.S., after three states and the federal government.

Two private prison-industry lobbyists also served on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign staff. In short: For-profit prison corporations wield immense, undue influence over government policy.

Regarding firefighting: On the surface, it might not be all that shocking to learn that more than half of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget winds up in the private sector.

The bothersome part is that much of America’s privatized firefighters work for insurance companies, protecting only buildings covered by those insurance companies — like Firebreak Spray Systems, which began working for AIG in 2005.

As McKenzie Funk pointed out in Harper’s Magazine, it’s reminiscent of England’s first firefighters in the 17th and 18th centuries. Back in the day, private fire-insurance corporations competed for water and space.

The competition between these companies became so counterproductive that, in the 19th century, England replaced them with public firefighters, whose “only adversary was fire.”

This no-brainer is being reversed in contemporary America, where no-brain executives saw the building of flammable homes in dry hills as an insurance opportunity.

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Given how much money AIG continues to rake in, some of it via the taxpayer-funded bailout of 2009, it’s capitalized on that opportunity.

Don’t be fooled. When you hear “public-private partnership,” the subject at hand is nothing less than the destruction of vital public services for the sake of profits.

It’s not that the private sector wants to destroy this country — they just don’t care if they do. This should be all we need to know that privatization must be stopped, now.

Joel Reinstein is a State News guest columnist. Reach him at reinste5@msu.edu


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