Tag Archives: Privatization

Someone ALWAYS Pays, Governor!

Gov. Haslam, still hot for privatization, might want to check out what’s happening in our privatized prison industrial complex, which has apparently found a wonderful new revenue source:

A private probation company in Tennessee is violating racketeering laws by jailing impoverished people who fail to pay court fines for traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses, and by refusing to waive fees for the indigent, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

In the lawsuit, seven probationers, many of them sick or disabled and living on as little as $129 a month in food stamps, say they lost housing, jobs and cars, sold their blood plasma and went without food after repeated threats by the company that they would be jailed if they could not pay.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Nashville, alleges that the county and the company, Providence Community Corrections in Rutherford County, southeast of Nashville, are violating racketeering laws by extorting money through “the wrongful use of fear.”

Ah, terrific! Literally profiting off the plasma of the poorest of the poor. You know, I didn’t think it was possible to get blood from a stone but Tennessee Republicans have certainly managed to find some. I guess I didn’t think about the selling plasma part.

This is how privatization works, Gov. Haslam! I mean, when your only concern is whether a private company can do something cheaper, privatization looks pretty awesome, right? But the savings have to come from somewhere, right? This is how capitalism works, right?! Someone, somewhere along the line, pays. So let’s unpack this story and see who that person is:

The lawsuit in Tennessee, filed by Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights group, and the pro bono arm of the law firm Baker Donelson, describes a financial arrangement between the county and Providence Community Corrections that is typical in many respects: The county pays nothing to the company, which earns money instead by charging monthly fees to probationers as well as surcharges for drug tests, warrants and other services.

Oh, that’s nice. So the county pays nothing, and the company charges the indigent. Somehow the good Christian people of Rutherford County thought this dirty piece of business was gonna end up being clean? Seriously? You thought you could get something for nothing? Are you people idiots?

And let’s look at these surcharges for drug tests. Were they, maybe, performed by Aegis Sciences, the drug testing company owned by the husband of prominent Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black? Maybe! Love how the Republican Welfare Gravy Train works, don’t you?

But wait, there’s more:

The company even refused to let destitute probationers complete their required community service hours without first paying a community service fee, the plaintiffs say.

The arrangement gives the company a direct financial interest in the length of probationary periods. It also gives it broad powers to set the conditions of probation, including such requirements as forbidding alcohol consumption regardless of the nature of the offense, and to “revoke” probation and have the offender jailed, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs say that once they were sent to county jail, they were manhandled or ridiculed by jail officials. Paula Pullum, a 48-year-old plaintiff with severe medical problems — including a heart ailment — claims that when she submitted a letter detailing her health issues and required medications, a jailer tore it up.

Plaintiffs say that even when the company was aware of their indigence, they were not told they could apply to have their court costs waived. When they asked for a waiver, they said, they were denied or told they would first have to make payments for several months, pay for the form, pass a $20 drug test and pay a $25 fee to get a court hearing.

Yes, someone always pays! And when it’s the poor — or the poorest of the poor — who cares, amiright? That’s what they get for being poor. Stupid poors! Why can’t you be rich like the rest of us! Meanwhile, let’s continue to tell ourselves that the poor are lazy, that the playing field is even, that everyone has the same opportunities as everyone else, etc. Then we can grandstand about tight budgets and small government and the super awesome private sector and the need to privatize because cheaper, better, shinier, sparklier, etc. etc. etc. It’s super awesome, you guys — as long as you don’t look to closely.

And by the way, the lawsuit has been filed by the D.C.-based civil rights non-profit Equal Justice Under The Law. This is the kind of stuff ACORN used to do. I expect this group to be targeted by some James O’Keefe acolyte in 5 … 4… 3….

5 Comments

Filed under corporations, Tennessee

Playing Cop

“Why was a 73-year-old insurance company executive riding around playing cop?”

This question was asked by the Washington Post in reference to the tragic story of a Tulsa, OK “reserve cop” who accidentally shot and killed an unarmed black man last week. He says he meant to use his taser, but used his gun by mistake:

When Robert Bates pulled his weapon and shot 44-year-old Eric Harris on April 2, he said he thought his handgun was his Taser. In a video released by authorities over the weekend, a gunshot fires and Bates says, “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.” The incident was one of two shootings this month in which a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man — and it has created a backlash for many reasons, one being Bates is not a real police officer. He’s a reserve sheriff’s deputy. And some fear he wasn’t qualified to be one.

So who are these “reserve officers” out on the streets playing cop? The Post tells us they’re insurance salesmen, bankers, lawyers, teachers. They are movie stars like Steven Seagal and Lou Ferrigno, and NBA stars like Shaquille O’Neal.

And what the hell are they doing patroling our streets, armed with tasers and guns?

It’s all part of the big push to outsource community policing from the public police force (and their unions, and pensions) to private citizens which I touched on last week. While conservatives and the NRA and other groups like to go on and on about “the right of citizens to protect themselves and their families,” what’s really going on here is a dismantling of a public function handled by public employees and turning it over to ordinary individuals.

These volunteer “reserve officers” are just another piece of that general philosophy. The fact that it’s being implemented by the local police and sheriff’s office just tells me they’ve bought into a narrative that has devalued their training and expertise and tells ordinary citizens that this is a job any asshole can do.

This is the issue underlying our gun debate, and it’s one we haven’t discussed because nobody seems to realize it’s even going on. So now we have “Glock Blocks” — a stepped-up form of neighborhood watch, now with firepower:

Tolomon and a group of Jennings Lodge neighbors say they’re responding to escalating crime on their block by also making fliers that read “This is a Glock block. We don’t call 911.”

It’s mostly petty crime that neighbors are sick and tired of: stolen lawn ornaments, vandalism. But for neighbors like Tolonen, a breast-cancer survivor, that’s enough: “I will defend myself — and my home,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Shooting at someone who stole your Lily Rose lawn ornament is not exactly the best, most appropriate response. But as yet another American institution fails, this is what happens. This is how civil society crumbles.

And then you have useful idiots like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, NRA hero, who famously recorded a PSA telling the citizens to not bother calling 911, but to instead arm themselves:

“With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option,” Clarke intones.

While I don’t buy into Clarke’s fearmongering about dangerous criminals lurking behind every bush — crime rates have consistently fallen as the population ages — he has a point. Our national infatuation with tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts has cut services at all levels of government, finally reaching once-sacred cows like local law enforcement and education. Shit needs to be paid for, but since we’re unwilling to do that these days, we’ll just have to take matters into our own hands. Let’s all homeschool our kids and get carry permits. Maybe we can operate our own water and sewage treatment plants, too. “Public” functions have been denigrated and devalued — no wonder, they don’t function so well on starvation budgets — and people are left to think they can do this stuff better themselves.

And that’s why our state legislature wants ordinary citizens out armed and concealed-carrying, in parks and schools and everywhere else. They don’t have to pay for that, do they? These are volunteers “playing cop,” too. People who may do something stupid like shooting themselves accidentally checking to see if the gun is loaded (news flash: it was!). Or, here’s one out of David Clarke’s home turf: a guy driving a van accidentally hits a toddler who ran out into the street. When he gets out of the van to check on the child, someone shot and killed him — and the teenager who was with him. For some reason. This is justice, American-style. We don’t need no 911, no police force, no judicial system. We’ll be judge and jury and executioner, too. Welcome to modern America.

This is how civil society dies. It starts by denigrating all things public — public employees, public schools, public servants of all kinds. Make “public” a bad word, tell everyone you can do a better job yourself (or the private sector can).

You can pretend it’s all about freedom and self-protection and defending your castle, but stop kidding yourselves. It’s about the slow descent into anarchy you guys have been fearmongering about. You’re the useful idiots pulling the string that will unravel our society and you don’t even realize it.

17 Comments

Filed under Guns

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.

2008:

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.

2005:

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.

2002:

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.

1991:

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.

[UPDATE]:

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.

27 Comments

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.

4 Comments

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.

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Filed under privatization