Thursday, July 05, 2012

Privatizing public safety: not a safe idea

...and not a particularly ethical or bright one, either...

One of the great watchwords of Republican rhetoric is "privatize!".

As in "we should privatize all government functions because private business can do anything better than the government can!"

They say it frequently and loudly but it seems more like the one thing that private business does best is accrue wealth unto those at the top of the business org chart.  Something that isn't necessarily unethical; in fact, it's what business is all about.

However, that isn't what society is all about, not if it wants to be a healthy society.

The one consistent characteristic of "privatization" efforts is that they turn into mechanisms to funnel money intended to serve the public good away from public purposes and into private pockets (ask state legislator Steve Yarbrough).

It may be legal, mostly because the people writing the laws are the ones benefitting from the misuse of public funds (think: the Mob writing racketeering laws), but it isn't ethical.

And when they start privatizing public safety functions?

The scheme stops being "merely" unethical and starts being hazardous to life and liberty.

Two stories that broke this week highlight this fact -

- In this story, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times chronicled the devastating impact on real people of privatizing probation and jail services.  People who have committed minor infractions end up in jail because they are unable to pay exorbitant fees imposed on them by private probation companies.  Once they are in jail, more fees are imposed on them by the private businesses overseeing that part of the cycle.

Fees that they are still unable to pay, a situation that fuels another go-round in the cycle of debt in which restrictions on freedom are nothing but a revenue generator for private companies.

In other words, in many areas of the country, the public safety system, specifically the local jail/probation apparatus, has been co-opted into enhancing private profit instead of enhancing public safety.

- As bad as the above is, it pales in comparison to an incident in Florida, where a lifeguard was fired from his job for going to rescue a distressed swimmer in an area of a beach that was outside "the section of the beach his company is paid to patrol".

The company deemed the lifeguard's actions inappropriate because its policy, based on "liability concerns" is that only people who are swimming in areas that the company profits from are worthy of rescue (no, they didn't use those specific words, but they might just as well have), and terminated his employment.

The company has since offered the lifeguard, Tomas Lopez, his job back; he has declined the offer.

Lest you think that the people running the company came to their senses and that was behind the turnaround, it should be known that they were eviscerated in the court of public opinion and the offer was less an exercise in "common sense" and more an exercise in "damage control."

The incident serves as a prime example of the darkest side of "privatization."  A company ostensibly hired to protect public safety was willing to let someone die in order to protect their profits.

No matter the nature of the privatized function, the highest priority of a private company is to protect and serve its own profits, not to protect and serve the public.

On Tuesday, I posted a transcript of the Declaration of Independence.

My, how times have changed.

236 years ago, America's leaders pledged their own "lives...fortunes, and...sacred honor " in support of an independent America.

Today, too many of America's leaders have no "honor" and it's our lives and fortunes on the support the bottom lines of their friends.


Whenever a politician starts advocating for the privatization of some public function (i.e. - Russell Pearce pushing for the privatization of most MVD functions or  Steve Yarbrough pushing for ever more privatization of public education, in a way that is set up to make him ever more wealthy), audit him (or her; men don't have a monopoly on corruption).  And if the official, the official's family, or the official's friends benefit from the proposed move in even the tiniest way, the official goes to prison. 

And not a private Holiday Inn camouflaged as a prison.

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