[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Since the following piece is excerpted from a new book produced by the invaluable website Alternet.org, I thought this might be a fine moment to urge all of you — if you don’t it the site already — to visit that ever vigorous, thoughtful, provocative site. Everyday it has a menu of superb pieces — some from websites like this one, others original — that add up to some of the best reading on the progressive blogosphere. You can sign up (as I have) for their emails, which put their top pieces in your email box daily, by clicking here.]
The headlines scream. The world goes mad. The Bush administration, which failed to fully impose its unitary executive presidency on the nation through war via a Commander-in-Chief presidency, now seems intent on doing the same in its waning days through a Treasury-Secretary-in-Chief version of the same. The following passage in the original proposed bill for the $700 billion bailout legislation now in Congress may take your breath away — “Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency…” — but it is recognizably pure Bush.
Though that particular phrasing is now gone, administration officials are using the politics of fear and panic over the very financial mess they had a hand in creating to institutionalize a presidential power grab of startling magnitude. And then, of course, following the pattern of this administration, they will privatize that power, undoubtedly subcontracting the work of governmental buying and selling to the very financial characters involved in creating this mayhem. As a result, in the Bush years the Treasury Department, like the Pentagon, will have both expanded its power exponentially and privatized it all at once. Yes, Congress will add caveats and “oversight,” but these may be little more than window dressing from a body of government which has already essentially given up the ghost (of power) along with its power of the purse. If you thought we had an imperial presidency before the present economic meltdown, what’s coming may put that to shame.
Anyone who believes that an administration incapable of getting itself out of its own disasters from Kabul to Baghdad to New Orleans finally has a formula for doing so at a moment of ultimate economic debacle is surely deluded. In the meantime, Congress may turn over the checks (as in checkbooks) from those classic American governmental checks and balances to the Treasury. And as for the balances, well, you already know that story. So, a skyscraper’s worth of private financial indebtedness will now be socialized on the backs of taxpayers; and yet, as Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, award-winning filmmakers and experts in the privatization of water supplies and systems, indicate below, the most basic public services that once gave meaning to the government now stand in danger of going “private” not just in the developing world but in the United States.
Their post, by the way, is an adaptation of an essay they wrote for a wonderful new book on a subject that will reshape our lives for decades to come — the redistribution of water on this planet, including the present fierce droughts in the American southeast and west. The Alternet.org book, Water Consciousness: How We All Have to Change to Protect Our Most Critical Resource, is in itself a resource of the first order. (Check out the book’s website while you’re at it.) Tom
Drinking at the Public Fountain
The New Corporate Threat to Our Water Supplies
By Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman
In the last few years, the world’s largest financial institutions and pension funds, from Goldman Sachs to Australia’s Macquarie Bank, have figured out that old, trustworthy utilities and infrastructure could become reliable cash cows — supporting the financial system’s speculative junk derivatives with the real concrete of highways, water utilities, airports, harbors, and transit systems.