Tomgram: Snitow and Kaufman, Water Wars in America

September 26, 2008

[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.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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Privatization and the election

September 13, 2008

PRIVATIZATION IN MANY FORMS LOOMS AS POTENTIAL ELECTION ISSUE, by Ish Theilheimer.  Another public service nightmare story could galvanize debate.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00149

TELECOMMUNICATIONS BREAKDOWN, by Peter Nowak, CBC News.  Consumer groups say government deregulation without adequate protection for customers was a serious mistake.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00144

ELECTION PROMISE MADE TO RESTORE COURT CHALLENGES PROGRAM, by NUPGE.  Liberals pledge to revive program cancelled by Harper Conservatives in 2006.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00148

THIS FALL, VOTE FOR MEDICARE, by CUPE.  Harper government not collecting needed data nor enforcing rules.  Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00147

NEW BRUNSWICK WATCHDOGS KEYING IN ON P3 NURSING HOMES DEAL, by Daniel McHardie, Telegraph-Journal.  Ombudsman, Auditor General to launch review of contract struck between provincial government and Shannex Inc. http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00145

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CITY LEASES PUBLIC ASSETS TO PRIVATE INVESTORS?  By Susan Chandler, Chicago Tribune.  Owners have more latitude to raise prices.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00142

PRIVATIZATION OF TEXAS STATE SERVICES A “SLOW-MOTION DISASTER”, by The Houston Chronicle.  Audit shows management problems continue five years later.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00141

WHO IS THIS TROUBLESOME ‘FANNIE MAE’ PERSON, ANYWAY?  By Robert Kuttner, Huffington Post.  The Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), now privatized, began life as a US government institution.
Http://www.publicvalues.ca/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=00146

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Harper’s secret review of Canada Post

September 12, 2008

This latest insidious move by the Harper government should be of grave concern to Canadians who care about the egalitarian system of our mail delivery by Canada Post. Harper has been secretly trying to dismantle our mail delivery system and put it into private, corporate hands, where profit is the bottom line. Rural and remote areas would be especially hard hit and left without uniform, affordable postal service. To find out more, read this info from ViveleCanada.ca.

This is another example of how much effort Stephen Harper is putting into the dismantling and privatization of our Canadian institutions in order to further his goal of full integration with the U.S.

Over the next few months, our Conservative federal government is conducting a review that will determine the future of universal, public postal service. This review is pretty much a secret review and it could be very bad news for rural communities.

The government’s review will look at three very basic and important questions: What postal services should people receive? Who should provide them? And should Canada Post continue to have an exclusive privilege to handle addressed letters or should the letter market be open for competition?

Anyone who thinks that a little competition never hurt anyone might want to take a closer look at how our postal system actually works. Canada Post has an exclusive privilege to handle letters so that it is able to generate enough money to provide affordable postal service to everyone, no matter where they live.

While the exclusive privilege isn’t often discussed, most people seem to like what it does. In fact, ninety-one percent of respondents to an Angus Reid poll said universal postal service at a uniform rate is one of the really great things about Canada Post.

Unfortunately, our popular and egalitarian one-price goes anywhere service could disappear. If the government decides to eliminate our post office’s exclusive privileges as a result of its review, Canada Post would almost certainly face a downward spiral. Private sector competitors would focus on profitable areas and services, leaving unprofitable parts to our public post office. With fewer profits, Canada Post would find it increasingly difficult – and eventually impossible – to provide uniform and affordable service, especially in rural and remote parts of the country.

[…]

Read rest of the article here.