Posts Tagged ‘Privatization’

Speaker Paul Ryan will try to privatize Medicare

November 19, 2016

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will try again to privatize Medicare.

President-elect Donald Trump said during the campaign that he will protect Medicare as it is.

Speaker Paul Ryan

Speaker Paul Ryan

But Ryan doesn’t seem to expect a fight with Trump.  Why not?  Does he have reason to believe that Trump didn’t mean what he said?  Reporters need to press Trump to declare where he stands.

Grass-roots advocates should not stand by idly and assume the Democrats in Congress will defend Medicare.  They should be letting their congressional representatives and Senators know that tampering with Medicare is unacceptable.

I give Ryan and the Tea Party Republicans credit.  They never give up pushing for their goals.  They take ideas that seem radical and make them mainstream.

And they strike when the iron is hot!  They never hesitate to use whatever power they have to advance their agenda.

Liberals and progressives can learn from their example.  Instead of just passively trying to preserve Medicare and also Obamacare as they are, they should be demanding a Medicare-for-all system to replace Obamacare.


Our dying American democracy

March 23, 2015

Is the United States still a democracy?  Tom Engelhardt pointed out how the USA is evolving into something different.

1.  1% ElectionsPresidential election campaigns no longer begin with the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries.   They begin with presidential candidates being screened by wealthy donors who determine which of them will have the wherewithal to run.

2.  The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third World Country).   “Crony capitalism” was a word that we Americans coined to describe the system in poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  But now our own country public services are being handed over to well-connected individuals to be operated for private profit.

3.  The De-Legitimization of Congress and the PresidencyThe democratic branches of government are held in low esteem, and with reason.   Recent Presidents and congressional leaders have abdicated their Constitutional responsibilities.

4.  The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government.  Secret branches of government decide national policy and expand their own powers without authorization of law.  People who reveal what they’re doing are subject to prosecution.

5.  The Demobilization of the American People.   Most Americans recognize that their government doesn’t really represent them.  But unlike in earlier eras, this discontent has not produced any mass movement to do something about it—at least not yet.


The New American Order: the 1% Elections, the Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government and the Demobilization of “We the People” by Tom Engelhardt for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review).   A powerful and accurate indictment.   My summary doesn’t do it justice.  I recommend you read the whole thing.


Charter schools and the shock doctrine

August 4, 2014

 If a charter school consisted of teachers and parents who had an idea for better educating children, I would be in favor of letting them try.  And I favor supporting genuine educational reformers such as Geoffrey Canada.

Goodness knows there is room for improvement in American public schools, and I can recall when there was considerable support among poor people in American big cities for charter schools.

karp-1But this is not what the charter school movement is about today.   By and large the charter school movement consists of (1) ideological opponents of public services in general and public education in particular and (2) vulture capitalists who see charter schools as a way to make a quick dollar by acquiring public facilities cheap.

Naomi Klein wrote a book, The Shock Doctrine, about how radical privatizers take advantage of emergencies to impose their ideas on an unwilling public.   I don’t think it is coincidence that the two most extensive examples of charter schools are New Orleans and Detroit, where parents and voters lost their voice in public education.

Almost all the public schools in New Orleans were replaced by charter schools following Hurricane Katrina, and about half the schools in Detroit have been made into charter schools by the unelected emergency government.

Charter schools are considered great investment opportunities because they can operate at minimum cost, often using public facilities acquired cheap, without accountability as to the quality of the product.  Privatizing public schools is part of the same movement that seeks to privatize the postal service, privatize public roads and privatize public housing.

A friend of mine who teaches at a community college in Texas told me that one of his freshman students has a day job as a teacher in a charter school.   That’s a lot more cost-effective than paying a trained and experienced teacher—that is, from an investor’s point of view, not a parent’s.


The passing scene: Links & comments 11/9/13

November 9, 2013

South Africa breaks out of ‘partnership’ agreement trap by Joseph Stiglitz for the Bangkok Post.

The government of South Africa is party to trade treaties that, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty, grant international corporations privileged positions over the nation’s citizens.  But it is letting these treaties expire and renegotiating them.  Other countries should and are following suit.

America’s Death Spiral in the Middle East by Bob Dreyfuss for TomDispatch.

In the Middle East, the United States is despised by its enemies, its supposed allies, and even leaders it put in power.  The only hope of salvaging the U.S. position, according to this writer, is an alliance with Iran.  I think he’s right.

Syria’s Assault on Doctors by Annie Sparrow for The New York Review of Books.

I think President Obama was right to back off from attacking Syria, because this would have made a bad situation even worse, but the plight of the Syrian people remains.

Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters by John Knefel for Rolling Stone.

A U.N. report finds the global private security industry is booming by Elliott Hannon for Slate.

President Eisenhower warned of danger of a military-industrial complex.  Now we have a surveillance-industrial complex and a police-industrial complex.

Obama Gets Behind Democrats’ $10.10 Minimum Wage Proposal by Dave Jamieson for Huffington Post.

Obama wants to cut Social Security by Ben Strubel for New Economic Perspectives.

I am glad of the President’s decision to support a higher minimum wage.  I wish he were as relentless in pressing for that as he is for indexing Social Security to the “chained CPI”.

Billionaire Steven Cohen Can’t Make His Mommy’s Monkey Jump by Greg Palast for Truthout.

Palast profiles a member of what Theodore Roosevelt called “the wealthy criminal class.”  No matter how many billions he has, he thinks he needs more.

The U.S. can do a lot better than Obamacare

October 24, 2013

The Affordable Care Act is a bad plan.  It may be a lesser evil than the system we had before, just as the system we had before was better than nothing at all, but it falls short of what Americans have a reasonable right to expect.

Obamacare creates a captive market for the for-profit insurance companies, which in themselves contribute nothing to the availability or quality of medical care.

It is a form of privatization of social insurance, which creates a bad precident—especially ominous in the light of President Obama’s repeated statements about the need to cut Medicare and Social Security.

By design, it does nothing to control some of the main things that make health care so expensive in the United States.  In addition to locking the insurance companies into the system, it allows pharmaceutical companies to charge Americans more than what they charge Canadians and Europeans for identical products.  And it complexifies the needlessly complex existing system.

Instead of providing a universal system, it creates a means-tested system where different people give different levels of health insurance, and some are still outside the system.

While the ACA provides subsidies to low-income citizens who can’t afford health care premiums, these may in the long run turn out to be mere pass-throughs that enable insurance companies to raise their rates, just as the Pell grants to college students eventually become mere pass-throughs to the colleges.

And while it assures insurance to many people who previously were denied it, I seriously question whether either competition or federal regulation will guarantee insurance premiums are affordable. Even if government regulators are serious about keeping insurance affordable, there are many ways for companies to game the system, by providing lower levels of care, asking higher deductibles and simply making it difficult to file claims (I have personal experience with the latter).

I do recognize that Obamacare has helped many people and even saved lives.   I don’t advocate wiping it off the blackboard and going back to the previous system.  But we Americans shouldn’t accept that this is the best we can do.


Why prison privatization is a bad idea

April 24, 2013


As an example, lobbying by the Corrections Corporation of America helped bring about passage of the Arizona law allowing for arrests of people who can’t produce proof of citizenship.   Click on Private Prisons and the Arizona Anti-Immigration Law for details.

The last days of the U.S. Postal Service

April 9, 2013

I’ve always been a fan of the U.S. Postal Service.  Imagine being able to deliver a document from any point in the United States to any other point—say, from a village in Alaska to a retirement community in Florida—for a flat rate of 46 cents.   If this service didn’t exist, and a private carrier would offer to do it for $4.60, this would be regarded as a triumph of free enterprise.

But the U.S. Postal Service is dying.  It is not dying a natural death.  It is being euthanized by conservative Republicans in Congress with the silent consent of liberal Democrats.

fed_employees_us_budget_savings_chartRevenues and volume of mail are declining, but this is not the problem. The problem is a law enacted in 2006 which requires the Postal Service pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance, a requirement that no private company has to meet, and that requires the Postal Service to pay $5.5 billion into the Treasury every year.  The 2006 law also forbids the Postal Service to offer new products that would give it an “unfair or otherwise inappropriate competitive advantage.”

The Postal Service is required to (1) provide a minimum level of public service regardless of economics, (2) refrain from competing with private business and (3) earn a profit.  I would say: Pick any two.  Meeting all three requirements is a logical impossibility.

While the Postal Service is required to operate like a public business, it is forbidden to do the things that private businesses do.   Among the things that Congress has forbidden over the year is to offer bulk discounts to mailers, to advertise that its express mail rates are lower than United Parcel Service or Federal Express overnight rates, to provide public-use copiers in post offices, or to set up a service on-line service to pay bills.

At the same time the Postal Service is required (rightly) to provide a minimum level of service to the public.   Mail delivery is one of the core functions of government defined in the Constitution, and it is a necessity for many Americans.  As David Morris reported for AlterNet.

In rural areas, the local post office may be the only community gathering place remaining, a place to meet one’s neighbors and share truly local needs and news. In a nation where more than one in five votes are cast by mail and in some states mail ballots have to be received by the close of polls, closing post offices can significantly burden some groups.  In Nevada, for example, about half of the 27 Indian tribes rely heavily on the post office to register and to vote, and the closure of a post office will effectively strip them of that right.

Closing post offices and delaying the delivery of mail places a significant burden on the most vulnerable of our citizens.

William C. Snodgrass, owner of a USave Pharmacy in North Platte, Nebraska, talked about the end-of-next-day, first-class delivery to local areas.  His store mails hundreds of prescriptions a week to residents in mostly rural areas of the state that lack local pharmacies.  If first-class delivery were lengthened to three days and Saturday mail service also were suspended, a resident might not get a shipment mailed on Wednesday until the following week.

“A lot of people in these communities are 65 or 70 years old, and transportation is an issue for them,” said Snodgrass. “It’s impossible for many of my customers to drive 100 miles, especially in the winter, to get the medications they need.”

via AlterNet.

Currently the U.S. Postal Service is being managed like Eastman Kodak Co. in its last days—selling off assets, cutting back services, letting its work force shrink by attrition and squeezing more work out of existing employees.   This isn’t a strategy for growth or even survival.  It is an effort to postpone the inevitable.   But the problem is not with the Postal Service’s managers or its hard-working clerks and letter carriers.  The problem is with the constraints put on the Postal Service by Congress.

Why the drive to shut down the Postal Service?   It employs more than 500,000 people, second only to Walmart in the United States.  But unlike Walmart, they are union workers who get decent wages and health insurance.  From the standpoint of a certain type of employer, this is a bad example that should not be allowed, lest it spread.

The other factor is that the Postal Service owns 32,000 post offices, many of them on prime real estate, along with 461 distribution centers and 213,000 vehicles.  If the Postal Service is shut down, private owners will have a chance to acquire these assets at a bargain price.  [Added 4/11/13.  And the $326 billion in the USPS pension fund also will go to—someone.]

Click on the following links for more.

Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?

Why You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service

Why We Must Rescue the Postal Service From the Brink of Death

If the Postal Service goes under…

February 19, 2013

Unless something changes, it is only a matter of time—maybe a very short time—before the U.S. Postal Service goes out of business.  The USPS has all the hallmarks of a failing business.  It is cutting back on service, letting employment fall by attrition, driving its remaining employees to work harder, and resorting to short-term expedients to keep going.

When and if the Postal Service fails, I predict the following things:

  • Winter-Weather-Ohio_Gree_20110201083920_640_480An uptick in the U.S. unemployment rate.  The U.S. Postal Service employed 528,458 people in 2012, the lowest number since 1978 and down from a peak of  797,795 in 1999.  For comparison, General Motors employed 91,000 before filing for bankruptcy.
  • Rate increases, service reductions or both from Federal Express or United Parcel Service.  Both companies rely on the USPS to fill gaps in their service.
  • A sell-off of the Postal Service’s assets—buildings, vehicles, computers and much else—at bargain rates.  The Postal Service doesn’t keep track of the market value of what it owns.  Its purchase cost for its land and buildings was $27 billion, but much of the its real estate holdings are in prime locations in the center of town, and undoubtedly worth many times the original price.

Postal CarrierMail delivery is one of the functions of government established by the U.S. Constitution.  There is no good reason why it can’t continue.  One problem is the mandate that the Postal Service fund the retirement benefits of employees 75 years in advance—some of whom may not be of working age before the USPS is defunct.  No private business would ever assume such a burden. While this mandate has been temporarily eased, the larger problem is that, although Congress in 1970 mandated that the Postal Service be self-supporting, it did not grant the Post Service’s managers the same authority that corporate managers have to set rates and determine what services to offer.  So it has a mandate to compete, but in handcuffs.

So-called conservative Republicans in Congress have along sought to abolish or privatize the Postal Service because they oppose public service on principle.   I give them credit for at least fighting for their principles, which is more than I can say for the majority of the so-called liberal Democrats, including President Obama, who do not stand up either for their principles or their core supporters.

Click on You Should Be Outraged By What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service for a fuller report by Dave Johnson for Alternet.

Work that needs doing, men who need work

March 15, 2010

We have cities dependent on antiquated water and sewerage systems, many dating back to the 19th century.  We have millions of able-bodied men who are out of workWhat is the problem in putting the men to work replacing water and sewer pipe?

The problem is an ideology that says that everything that is done by government and supported by taxes is unnecessary or bad, especially if rich people are taxed and poor people benefit.  When public water and sewer systems were first proposed in the 19th century, they were opposed by affluent people who had their own private systems, until it was pointed out that contagious disease doesn’t necessarily limit itself to one economic class of people.