Many lessons can be learned from the shambles that was the Bush administration. One is about the danger of unfettered bipartisanship. Straining to satisfy the demands of corporate media that they forgo opposition, Democratic members of Congress allowed an incompetent and ill-intentioned Republican president to start a needless war. America and the world are still paying for that nonfeasance. (Yet some of the same people are straining anew, supporting a Republican economic stimulus package that offers more of the discredited “trickle-down economics” of the Bush mob.)
The sham of privatization was exposed through the Bush administration's practices as well. Unintentionally but conclusively, Bush demonstrated that privatizing government services neither increases efficiency nor reduces cost. Rather, it produces profits for the administration's friends, and is so intended. A flagrant example is the Medicare prescription-drug legislation slipped through Congress by a cunning Louisiana legislator, rewarded with a high-paying job in the drug industry. The government, which negotiates drug prices for veterans, was prohibited from doing the same for the elderly. Instead of having to compete for a large government contract — corporations hate competition — drug companies were allowed to operate their own plans and set their own prices, to the great disadvantage of consumers. The Veterans Affairs Department has negotiated lower prices for veterans than are paid by senior citizens for all of the most commonly used drugs. (Rep. Marion Berry is co-sponsoring a bill to let the government negotiate drug prices for Medicare too. The drug companies are making big money by “cheating old people,” he says, commendably candid.)
Surely, it would seem, no one could support privatization now. But the Arkansas legislature is in session, and when the legislature meets, every bad idea has its day. Some lawmakers have announced a continued interest in privatizing state prisons, uncaring that the Department of Correction has already tried privatization and found it wanting. A private corporation ran two of the state prisons from July 1998 to July 2001, when the state decided it could no longer tolerate deficiencies in sanitation, security and maintenance. “It would be difficult if not impossible to find a private company that can do all we do for the same money,” a prison spokesman says. “The bottom line for a private company is profit. That is not our bottom line. We want to make a difference in those inmates. Ninety percent of them are going home.”
In a democracy, there are things that the people must do for themselves, and correction of criminal offenders is one. So are schools and highways and game and fish. Those things are why we have self-government. They're everybody's business.