Category Archives: privatization

America Demands Black Guy Clean Up Big Mess

“Taxpayers get what they fucking pay for” — a VA employee sounds off. Ay fucking men.

Privatization … subcontractors… budget deficit hysteria … I’m so over Republican talking points ruling our discourse.

God, I’m so over this shit. Are we seriously pretending problems with the VA like wait lists and cover-ups are something new? Something novel under the Obama Administration? When we all know the VA has been plagued with issues as far back as anyone can remember? Jesus, we have World War II vets still trying to get benefits after they’re deceased.


A review of shredding bins at Department of Veterans Affairs benefits offices around the nation uncovered 489 documents improperly set aside for destruction, the VA confirmed on Thursday.


Gordon Erspamer, a California claims attorney who has worked on litigation against the VA, said the agency has long known it had a problem with improperly destroyed paperwork.

“This has been going on for many, many years,” he said. VA claims workers “are under such intense pressure to process claims quickly that they look for the easiest way to deny a claim. Instead of making a decision, it’s often better to just lose a medical report.”

Erspamer said VA workers have a financial incentive to process claims quickly because they essentially work on a quota system. That, he said, encourages some to “lose” paperwork.

“Tens of thousands of veterans simply die with their claims pending,” he said.


VA’s red tape squelches veterans’ long-overdue disability claims

There have been some improvements in the last three years. But when it comes to delays, cases that need to be redone and backlogs, things are the same or worse than they were in the 1990s, Knight Ridder found, when the agency vowed to clean up its act.


VA chief Anthony Principi is fighting two enemies–a huge backlog of claims and barriers to VA health care.


On one front, he encounters tens of thousands of veterans trying to get into a besieged VA health care system, where waits for service in some portions of the country stretch beyond one year.

On the other front, he finds a huge backlog of claims–more than 490,000 of them–from vets seeking compensation for ailments or injuries they believe are a consequence of military service.


In a February 6, 1991 broadcast highlighted Sunday on Melissa Harris-Perry, NBC News reported on Vietnam veterans suffering from illnesses they contracted due to exposure to Agent Orange, the chemical used widely during that conflict. The devastating effects of Agent Orange to the men, women, and children of Vietnam were already known, but even in the 1980s, the men who were exposed to it during their tour of service had to fight to get treatment and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As I’ve taken time out of my day to read up on this, it appears the issue is quite complex, and merely looking at some numbers and pointing fingers can’t do justice to it. For example, Republicans with an interest in portraying Obama as an incompetent buffoon who doesn’t support the troops because Kenya like to say the VA claims backlog swelled under Bamz (again, Kenya and Muslim and liberal, etc. etc.). This ignores the fact that the backlog grew in the first place because of things like the Nehmer decision, which attributed a whole bunch of medical conditions to Agent Orange exposure, causing tens of thousands of previously decided claims to be refiled.

America, typically, has asked the black guy to clean up the mess. Cue my shocked face.


Some good reporting from Mother Jones on this, however I take issue with the idea that this problem started under the Bush Administration. The problem has been going on waaaaay longer than that. However, it really pisses me off that, just like with the NSA spying scandal, shit liberals were screaming and hollering about 10 years ago is only now getting some attention from the media, like everyone just woke up to something the hippies have been talking about forever. What, you guys wanna talk about how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have body armor, too? Jesus, people. Pay attention.


Filed under privatization, Veterans Administration

Today In Cheap Labor: Prison Edition

This is pretty sickening:

Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor


As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.

This work program is facing increasing resistance from detainees and criticism from immigrant advocates. In April, a lawsuit accused immigration authorities in Tacoma, Wash., of putting detainees in solitary confinement after they staged a work stoppage and hunger strike. In Houston, guards pressed other immigrants to cover shifts left vacant by detainees who refused to work in the kitchen, according to immigrants interviewed here.

The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force.

This hits the trifecta of immoral policies: our immigration policy, which splits up families; our privatized prison policy, which turns incarceration into a profit center; and our addiction to cheap labor, which continues to devalue the “human resource.” Funny how these three roads have met. This will not end well.


Filed under Cheap Labor, immigration, privatization

Privatization FAIL

Small-town Oklahoma residents find privatization of services not so shiny, sparkly:

Slezickey says Burrell Inc. reads electric, gas and water meters. The city contracted with that company six years ago, but this Spring, Slezickey says the company downsized and inconsistencies started.

“Shortly after that, they were late getting some of the books to us,” said Slezickey.

We called Burrell to ask what caused the high bills. No one returned our messages.

“My assumption is they were estimated instead of being read,” said Slezickey.

Whoever estimated Smith’s bill says she used 575 units of water in one month. Based on records, she uses that much in a year and a half.

“I allotted $50 to $100 for this bill. I don’t have $813.75 nowhere. Turn it off. I don’t know what else to do,” said Smith.

One of the reasons you don’t want vital public services privatized is because the private sector deals in a naturally fluctuating economy. When the economy is struggling or things happen affecting a private company’s operational budget, they start cutting corners. They’re not going to cut their profit margin, so quality is inevitably going to suffer. And when you’re dealing with services like trash pickup or reading water and gas meters, it’s not as easy as just switching which brand of detergent you buy.

Here in Nashville the company that had provided our trash services, PDQ Disposal, got bought by the regional behemoth Waste Industries, which has been on a buying spree around the Southeast. Since then our service has declined noticeably: for the first time in 12 years our entire neighborhood was overlooked on trash pickup day. After two days of wondering what the heck happened and fielding calls from neighbors I finally had to call them and tell them they’d forgotten a 5-block area.

I also have had a running battle with the guy who empties the dumpster at the church in my neighborhood. After repeatedly violating the noise ordinance by emptying the dumpster at 4, 5 or 6 a.m., I called the superivsor for our area and had to actually show them the city ordinance that says you can’t empty a dumpster before 7 a.m. in residential neighborhoods. They actually didn’t believe me!

But that wasn’t the end of it. Nooo. The guy still came at 6 a.m., and when I talked to him about it he sneered and said, “why do you care? You’re obviously awake at this time!” Now, just to be a dick, he’ll sometimes park his big truck in the church parking lot for 20 minutes or more, engine running and diesel exhaust belching into the air, until the clock hits 7 a.m. Then he’ll empty the dumpster, doing extra banging and clanging. Again, just to be a dick.

Yeah, remind me why I’m supposed to be happy my tax dollars are paying this asshole’s salary.

Anyway, I got a little far afield here. The point is, when these companies contract for city services they agree to a set amount of money upfront. But the world is always changing, and inevitably something is gonna happen, be it a downsizing or getting bought by a competitor or whatever. When that happens someone always suffers and it’s usually us customers.


Filed under privatization

Pigs At The Trough, Etc.

A whistleblower lawsuit has been filed against private defense contractor Jorge Scientific, described in the link as a “billion dollar government contractor.” According to the lawsuit, Jorge’s Kabul, Afghanistan operation indulged in such flagrant and gross misconduct, it placed the U.S. mission in Afghanistan at risk.

What kind of misconduct? Take it away:

For example, they indiscriminately fired weapons and possessed grenades (legally prohibited for government contractors), and drunken Jorge supervisors tossed live ammunition into house party bonfires causing the bullets to explode and destroy property. In one case, an errant bullet struck a Jorge employee near his eye and exploding bullets regularly found their way into the nearby civilian community causing Afghani civilian and military neighbors to complain – Jorge ignored those complaints.

Oooh that’s bad. But you know, not that bad, right? Wrong:

According to court documents alcohol abuse at the Villa was so prevalent, that in an inebriated and oxycodone induced state, Sullivan once placed a loaded gun in the mouth of an Islamic Jorge employee and called him “my nigga.” Another documented incident shows a Jorge executive drunk with a firearm snagged in his waist belt and disparaging “f…ing Arabs.” In another incident, two Jorge employees driving home drunk from a bar ended up in a ditch, clearly violating local customs and Islamic codes which prohibit alcohol consumption and driving under the influence.

Naturally, these alcohol-and-oxy parties were paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. And then we have this alleged incident, which is so bad you almost want to laugh:

In yet another incident captured on video, Jorge’s security manager for the entire country of Afghanistan was so intoxicated he was choking on his own vomit. When one of the relators tried to retrieve the medic from his bedroom to provide treatment, the relator found the medic himself intoxicated and drugged on ketamine to the point of incoherence, unresponsive with a syringe and a bag of horse tranquilizer on the floor and blood trickling from the medic’s arm.

Man I hope some of that video ends up on YouTube.

If these were military personnel there would be courts-martial and the like. But they’re not. They’re private contractors, and they’re going to keep feeding at the trough. Any repercussions will be swept under the rug. The company will change its name and land itself another cushy security contract, while Republicans continue to sell the idea that cutting our defense budget puts the country at risk.

Your tax dollars at work.


Filed under Afghanistan War, defense, privatization, war economy

Feeling Safer Yet?

God I’m so glad we’re still taking our shoes off at the airport and having our e-mails read by the NSA:

The hammering on the wall of America’s premier storage vault for nuclear-weapons grade uranium in pitch-darkness six weeks ago was loud enough to be heard by security guards. But they assumed incorrectly that workmen were making an after-hours repair, and blithely ignored it.

Minutes earlier, a perimeter camera had caught an image of intruders — not workmen — breaching an eight-foot high security fence around the sensitive facility outside Knoxville, Tenn. But the guard operating the camera had missed it. A different camera stationed over another fence — also breached by the intruders — was out of service, a defect the protective force had ignored for 6 months.

In theory, the pounding might have been the work of a squad of terrorists preparing to plant a powerful explosive in the wall of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a half-billion dollar vault that stores the makings of more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. Instead, it was a group of three peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, a Bible, and several hammers.

Are you kidding me? The story goes on to report that the activists “waited 15 minutes or so for the Mayberry-style guards to make an appearance.”

Here’s the worst part: we’ve outsourced security and operations at this facility to two private contractors, WSI-Oak Ridge and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services. So y’all can just stop throwing up your hands and saying the government can’t do anything right because this is yet another epic private contractor fail. Babcock & Wilcox has pocketed more than $5 billion to operate this facility in East Tennessee over the past 10 years.

This part really got me:

[…] Inside the HEUMF, which the activists were able to deface, and pit with hammers — but not breach — the harvested material is stored in thousands of barrels and small casks placed on racks, in the open, according to an NNSA video tour of the inside.

Given the obvious risks, the HEUMF’s designers initially envisioned it buried underneath a large earth berm, a relatively cheap approach to nuclear security that has been zealously embraced by the nuclear mandarins in Tehran. But at the last moment before construction started, the NNSA reversed course and opted instead to build its aboveground “prison,” based on advice that doing so would be quicker and cheaper to build and easier to defend.

That advice came from Babcock & Wilcox, which had already secured the guard force contract, according to a 2004 DOE report. The cost savings claim was discredited at the time by security experts from Sandia National Laboratories and by Friedman’s Inspector General office; he concluded that constructing the aboveground version would cost an extra $25 million, and staffing it with a guardforce four times larger would cost taxpayers an extra $177 million over its lifespan. It would also need extra cooling.

NNSA allowed Babcock & Wilcox “to continue redesigning the facility even when initial attempts to reduce the cost and improve the security of the facility failed,” Friedman complained. Michael C. Kane, then an NNSA executive and now a top Energy Department official, told him in a letter, however, that NNSA and its local site managers were convinced an aboveground “Defense-in-Depth security design” was the best course.

Nobody could have anticipated that the for-profit entity which got the operations contract would build a facility that cost more to operate! I’m so shocked!


I really don’t want to hear how much shinier/sparklier/cheaper/better private contractors are. I also don’t want to hear about the budget deficit from phony fiscal hawks who are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from these private companies. And finally, I don’t feel good knowing that our nuclear weapons programs are being handled by private, for-profit corporations. This is atrocious. If I were King I’d make this shit illegal.

But hey, war and nuclear weapons are just another “job creating enterprise,” right? That swords into plowshares stuff is so hippie-dippie! There’s money to be made, y’all! Come on!

Here’s the icing on the cake:

Over the years, NNSA has steadily said less and less to Babcock & Wilcox about how to do its work. It eliminated its regional office in 2002 and turned oversight over to an office located on-site. The philosophy it has adopted recently — with the strong support of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — is called the Contractor Assurance System. It essentially means that the government cannot tell the company how to operate or guard the site; it can only hold the company responsible when it fails to accomplish its mission.

I’m not holding my breath on that “holding the company responsible” stuff. The staff on site has been “reassigned or retired” and that should be sufficient, right? Your tax dollars at work!

By the way, the peace activists who revealed this dangerous security failure are facing felony charges.


Filed under defense, national security, privatization, Tennessee

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ’til It’s Gone

One issue which the various Occupy movements have brought to light is the vanishing commons, and what that means for our democracy. It all comes down to who owns what: protestors have a right to assemble on public property (as Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Highway Patrol found out last month). But private property is another matter entirely: your constitutional right to free speech (and 2nd Amendment rights and everything else) are at the pleasure of the property owner. We learned this in Nashville when anti-war protesters were arrested at then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s office here. Although Frist was a public official, his office was on private property. The landlord called the cops.

Zuccotti Park is a hybrid: a privately-owned public space, or POPS. We have these in Nashville, too, or something pretty much like them.

See if you can tell which of these pictures shows a public street, i.e. public property, and which one is private property (no cheating if you live in Nashville!):

I call them ersatz public spaces; most people don’t even know they’ve stepped onto private property when they’re walking on what looks like any other sidewalk, or slipping a quarter in what looks like any other parking meter (but look closely: that silver meter isn’t for parking, it’s to make a donation to the YMCA). Most of the time it doesn’t even matter … until it does. And when the time comes that it does matter, as the protestors at Zuccotti Park have discovered, it’s already too late.

Far smarter people than I have written about this. But I bring it up now because I don’t think the message has sunk in with the public at large. To me, this is all yet another sign of what we’ve lost — no, scratch that, what we’ve given away over the past 30 years. Like the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Public streets, public sidewalks, public parks: doesn’t seem like such a big deal, until suddenly it’s all gone and you have no place to peaceably assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances. You have no place to protest a corporation’s misdeeds, because that corporation is located on a private street that looks just like a public one. The media could be prohibited from reporting on activities happening on these fake public places. You could be prevented from circulating a petition against something the property owner might disagree with. You cannot hold a voter registration drive without the property owners’ permission. In short: your constitutional rights stop at some invisible line.

You Libertoonians blithely hammering your Ron Paul signs on every utility pole and street lamp: do you know who owns that street light? Are you so sure you have a right to hammer that sign to that utility pole? Your ideology which worships free enterprise, you phony radicals who support the interests of the power elites and ownership class: this message hasn’t applied to you yet. Why would it? But someday it will. As surely as the sun rises in the east, the day will come when your message is suddenly at odds with what the Koch Brothers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce want to hear. And when that happens, and you suddenly find yourself with nowhere to use your right to free speech because years ago you thoroughly vilified the idea of public anything .. what will you do then? Go buy a park?



Filed under privatization, protests

It All Depends On Whose Ox Is Getting Gored

Cash-strapped states like Arizona are trying to change the Federal law enabling them to privatize interstate rest stops so they can sell off leases and set up commercial operations. Except here in Tennessee, where our Gov. Bill Haslam, whose family owns Pilot Oil, the nation’s largest operator of travel centers, is against the idea. Surprise!

Well, technically he said he’s staying out of it since he’s governor, but his brother Jimmy, CEO of Pilot, is openly lobbying against the idea. And everyone says it’s not gonna happen in Tennessee.

Gov. Haslam says:

I think his point was, no matter what the business is, if you made an existing investment counting on a certain set of circumstances, i.e. that the state wouldn’t sell its own right of way for other people to use, it’s not really fair to go back and change the law to give one person a preferred position there.

I find this fascinating. I’m sure there are plenty of situations one can think of where a private group made an existing investment counting on a certain set of circumstances, and then the rules were unfairly changed. Let’s see … Planned Parenthood operating women’s health clinics using Title X funds comes to mind … I’m sure folks can think of some others.

I have to say, the Brothers Haslam surprise me. I would think they’d be all over this rest stop privatization scheme, eager to bid on the contract themselves. I admit I am not that familiar with this issue, so perhaps there’s something else going on here that I don’t know about. I can understand why the Haslam family would want less competition, and I guess they’ve positioned their locations on the assumption that state-operated rest stops are not competition.

Usually, though, Republicans are all about privatization. From our prisons to our schools, everything is supposed to be shinier, sparklier, cheaper, and better when sprinkled with the fairy dust of free enterprise.

Except, of course, where you pee and stretch your legs while taking the great American road trip.

Hmmm. Sounds a little self-serving to me. Furthermore, Tom Humphrey noted that other states which have received federal approval to privatize their rest stops are making some decent money:

In contrast to Tennessee, where the combined cost of operations is about $10 million per year, other states are making money off their rest stops. In Delaware, where full commercialization is allowed under federal law, a contract guarantees the state at least $1.6 million per year and perhaps more, depending on the contractor’s profits, according to a Stateline article. The contractor spent $35 million building a 42,000-square foot welcome center last year, the article says.

In Virginia, where full commercialization with restaurants and gas stations is not permitted, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration recently awarded a contract for operating vending kiosks and sale of advertising rights at 42 rest areas and welcome centers that is projected to net about $2 million per year, according to the AP.

Now, $2 million a year may not sound like a lot but remembering the hissy fits Republicans threw over TDOT’s roadside wildflower program which honored our veterans and cost around $800,000, well … it’s significant. Boy, I miss seeing those red poppies and purple lupines every spring. Ah well.

For the record, I’m not in favor of privatizing rest stops, either. I love the uncommercialized nature of our rest stops. But that’s just my Luddite, hippie nature. So Haslam and I agree on this one, for completely different reasons. Haslam wants to protect the family fortune under the guise of “fairness” … I’m just sick of being advertised to all the time. But honestly I really wonder what’s in the best interest of Tennessee? Would it be so awful if a private company operated our rest stops, perhaps along the Virginia model?


Filed under Bill Haslam, conservatives, privatization, Tennessee politics

Dignity For The Trashman

This, from yesterday’s fishwrap, really shows how disconnected people are from how city services are provided:

QUESTION: Becky Becker got a surprise a week ago when she brought up her trash cart. Tucked under the lid was an envelope with a holiday greeting from her trash collector that included his name and address.

Becker wonders if this was a hint to send him a holiday tip. She did not plan to send a check to someone whom she did not know — or even know whether he was really her trash collector.

More important, Becker questions whether to tip someone for doing a tax-supported job.

She wrote to me: “They are paid a salary by me and the other citizens of the city. It’s not so much that I am a Grinch as I am just tired of everyone having their hand out for a tip, especially when they are already receiving a salary.”

Oh my God. Yeah, you are Grinch. Get over yourself. If you don’t want to send a tip, then don’t. Jeebus. And here I thought I was the biggest Grinch in the county.

It’s the whole “These are MY TAX DOLLARS and how dare you not bow down and kiss my feet for every penny I begrudgingly pull out of my ass despite all the bitching and moaning I do at every opportunity.” Listen, Becky Becker (can you even believe that name is for real? I can’t): the reason you got a little Christmas card is because Metro has privatized its trash collection. It’s that whole “private companies can do everything better/cheaper/shinier/prettier” mindset that people like you espouse at every Tea Party rally and Ayn Rand reading group. So yeah, it’s a private company doing your trash collection, and that means you have to take it up with them. You ceded your right to bitch about this stuff when you decided you no longer liked the idea of public employees doing public services. I’ve got a steaming cup of STFU with Becky Becker’s name on it.

Or, as The Tennessean more politely put it:

ANSWER: Some Davidson County residents get trash collection that is paid for through property taxes. Private companies under contract with Metro handle some of those routes.

That is the case at Becker’s residence.

I alerted Metro Public Works to the card that Becker received.

Her trash route is handled by Red River Service Corp. Metro Public Works spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock said the manager at Red River would speak to employees about this sort of solicitation.

This is what happens when you contract out city services to private, for-profit companies. They pay their employees like shit, and people who have to do a sucky job like collecting your garbage every week look to other ways to make ends meet. Instead of being grateful that she doesn’t have to haul her stinking garbage to a landfill herself in the August heat (or January ice) she begrudges some guy his Christmas card. If you’re offended by a Christmas card and perceived request for a holiday tip (which you are under zero obligation to acknowledge), then imagine how offended you will be when some private company decides to hire illegal immigrants to save a buck. Hey, could happen.

The Beale household has been getting these Christmas cards every year, by the way. Here it is (Note the guy even said MERRY CHRISTMAS, not the offending “Happy Holidays.” There’s just no pleasing some people):

We also get these from the newspaper delivery guys. If I think of it, and I don’t always do so every year, I pop $10 or $20 in a Christmas card and send it back to them. I figure it’s the least I can do for someone who has a sucky job I would never want to do myself.

I hate to break it you, Becky Becker, but the real reason you got that Christmas card is that it’s really, really hard for working people in this state. We’ve privatized everything to save a buck, we refuse to raise taxes on corporations or rich people here because ZOMFG that would kill our “robust” economy, we deny people the right to organize into unions so they can collectively bargain for fair wages, we scream and bitch and moan about the very idea of raising the minimum wage let alone providing people a living wage, we force people to accept crappy pay for crappy work and so yeah, it’s no surprise they’re gonna have their hands out. It’s not because they’re greedy grabbers, but because they’re trying to pay their bills and send their kids to school and basically attain the American Dream which is increasingly out of reach for working folks because the people who got there ahead of them are pulling the ladders up.

I can’t link to this Financial Times article from August often enough, especially this part:

Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – having risen by only 10 per cent in real terms over the past 37 years. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. Over the same period the incomes of the top 1 per cent have tripled. In 1973, chief executives were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now the ­multiple is above 300.

People are working two and three times harder to stay in the same place. A lot of people are falling behind. And I think it’s this inconvenient fact which has the Becky Beckers of the country upset. It’s like they’re offended at being reminded that a lot of people are struggling. They want to stick their head in a hole and sing their happy songs. “America is the greatest country in the world EVAH! Everything is awesome!”

It’s like those folks who get ticked off at the vendors selling copies of The Contributor all over town. You’ve seen them with their yellow placards: it’s the alternative to panhandling. The paper is produced by homeless and formerly homeless folks through the Downtown Presbyterian Church. Vendors sell the papers for $1. The paper is actually quite good, – it’s won several national awards – and Mr. Beale and I always buy one.

Yet people bitch and moan about the vendors selling these papers in front of their businesses and on street corners. I’m like, WTF do you people want? First you put up “Please Help, Don’t Give” signs in your store windows. Then a local church devises a way for people to earn some money — all of that pulling-up-by-the-bootstraps stuff you’re always harping on about — and you begrudge folks that. You like to shout “Get a job!” but when someone actually does get a job, you’re like “Well, not that job!” Jesus.

What you guys really want is for these folks to just go away, am I right? You want them to be invisible. You don’t like to see the wages of our national sin out there on display for all to see. Well sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. You espouse the creed of greed and this is the result.


Filed under Nashville, poverty, privatization, rants

>First They Privatized The Prisons…

>Holy crap, when the fuck did we start privatizing public libraries?

I had NO idea there was even a company in existence like Library Systems & Services Inc., let alone that they operated five public libraries in Tennessee. You can see the list here.

This is such a supremely bad idea on so many levels I don’t know where to start. Let’s start with my entire aversion to the concept of privatization, the idea that a for-profit company can somehow manage a public institution like a library better and cheaper when their entire raison d’etre is to make a fucking profit. I never understood the logic. They’ll just cut corners by paying employees less or doing a crappier job. I mean, that’s the point: to make a profit. Someone always gets screwed along the way, and usually it’s too late when we figure out it’s us.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a DFH with an inherent mistrust of Corporate America, call me a radical who thinks there are some things that some rich asshole shouldn’t skim a profit from, but I find myself having an allergic, visceral reaction to the entire idea of privatizing the public good. It makes me sick to my stomach to think we’ve so cheapened the idea of the commons that we’ll privatize the public library without batting an eyelash. Just like we’ve privatized prisons without batting an eyelash, and that’s not just a disaster waiting to happen, it’s a disaster for communities already, right now, today.

This is just ripe for abuse. Imagine if the Sage of Wasilla had a corporate CEO, not a city librarian, to approach about censoring library books? Wonder how that would have ended?

This is Banned Book Week and I have to say, beyond just worrying about some local puritan challenging the availability of “Heather Has Two Mommies” or the “Harry Potter” series at the local library, we need to worry about the more nefarious systemic changes that can slowly encroach on our intellectual freedom. And privatizing libraries is one of those changes.


Filed under privatization, Tennessee

The Problem With Privatization

Bloggers and journalists across the country are starting to ask the question: is America’s privatized prison industry lobbying for more Arizona-style immigration laws to help their profits?

It’s a good question.

Nationwide there has actually been a drop in the jail population: this should be good news, but in a country where the profit motive has been inserted into every arena of the public good, it actually presents some ethical problems.

(And by the way: lower prison population doesn’t necessarily mean less crime: tight budgets across the country have prompted the early release of inmates to save money.)

Regardless of the reasons, if there’s a steady decrease in the number of incarcerated individuals at the same time that we have outsourced our government’s corrections responsibility to a for-profit private industry, then it makes sense that this industry will look for ways to find more people to put in prison. Its profits and shareholders depend on it. And what better way to do that then to go after the most vulnerable, voiceless population out there: illegal immigrants.

Is that happening? It’s certainly big business in Arizona:

CCA operates three prisons in Arizona that house detainees for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Theoretically, more arrests mean more detainees, which means more money coming into the company.

“There are winners and losers in the business of immigrant detention,” wrote Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Rights Coalition spokesman Elias Feghali in an email. “The winners are often the companies that have a direct financial interest in seeing people detained, regardless of the merits of detention.”

As this City Paper article reveals, Tennessee’s passage of a new bill that basically extends Davidson County’s 287(g) program statewide will mean big business for Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, the biggest player in the privatized prison business. Not surprisingly, CCA’s PAC made generous donations to Tennessee politicians, including the very legislators who sponsored this bill.

This makes me extremely uncomfortable. The moment our government decided it was okay to allow the profit motive to become part of the people’s gravest responsibilities–fighting wars, and incarcerating and rehabilitating those who break the law–we entered an ethical abyss. And just as there have been abuses in our privatized military, we have seen problems at CCA facilities: violating state laws, even charges of outright abuse.

But even if CCA’s prisons and jails operated as model facilities, I still say: You should not make money off of human suffering, and that includes war and prisons. If we were truly a “Christian” nation we would never allow companies like CCA to exist.

As we hand off more of the public good to for-profit corporations, we see corporations exerting their muscle over a wider array of public life. Companies like CCA, Koch Industries, and RJ Reynolds and industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute don’t just lobby legislators and make donations to political PACs to ensure favorable attention: Through groups like the industry-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, they are actually writing their own laws:

Though it calls itself “the nation’s largest bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators,” ALEC might better be described as one of the nation’s most powerful — and least known — corporate lobbies. While other lobbyists focus on the federal government, ALEC gives business a direct hand in writing bills that are considered in state assemblies nationwide. Funded primarily by large corporations, industry groups, and conservative foundations — including R.J. Reynolds, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute — the group takes a chain-restaurant approach to public policy, supplying precooked McBills to state lawmakers. Since most legislators are in session only part of the year and often have no staff to do independent research, they’re quick to swallow what ALEC serves up. In 2000, according to the council, members introduced more than 3,100 bills based on its models, passing 450 into law.

Through a quick Google search I learned that ALEC is behind the many state legislative efforts to opt-out of healthcare reform.

So yes, there is a mechanism in place by which companies such as CCA can write legislation favorable to their profits, legislation that is ultimately adopted by state legislatures across the country virtually verbatim. And yes, there is a precedent: CCA apparently worked through ALEC in the past to draft pro-incarceration legislation ultimately adopted in over 40 states:

In another instance of profitable policymaking, ALEC drafted a model “truth in sentencing” bill that restricts parole eligibility for prisoners, keeping inmates locked up longer. One of the members of the task force that drafted the bill was Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company, which stands to cash in on longer sentences. By the late 1990s, similar sentencing measures had passed in 40 states. “There was never any mention that ALEC or anybody else had any involvement in this,” Walter Dickey, the former head of Wisconsin’s prison system, told reporters after his state passed a version of the measure.

No wonder CCA touted “exciting growth opportunities” in its investor presentations:

Both “high recidivism” among felons and “inmate population growth following prior recessions” are highlighted as positives for the company in the 48-page report.

Conflict of interest much? It’s bad enough that corporations have so much power in America, but this is nothing new. We’ve been beating a pro-corporate drum since the 1950s when we first heard “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” But when that corporation makes its megamillions off of human suffering, then what’s good for the corporation isn’t necessarily good for America. Where is the incentive for peacemaking? Where is the incentive for rehabilitation of prisoners? A company that profits from recidivism put in charge of our prisons is the kind of company that gives rise to a place dubbed the “Gladiator School.” Shame on us.

Allowing anyone to profit off of human misery, while giving them the power to write laws on a local, state and national level, virtually ensures that human misery will spread. This isn’t a path to progress. This is a path to wretched misfortune. It starts with the lowly and least powerful, but make no mistake: it’s a hungry beast and it won’t stop until its worked its way up the food chain.

Some things should not be for sale. Some things do not benefit from a liberal sprinkling of free market fairy dust. Some parts of the common good should be left in the peoples’ hands.

I mention all of this as a warning. Keep your eyes open and pay attention to what your state legislatures are doing, and who is behind them.


Filed under CCA, corporations, immigration, privatization