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April 23, 2015


Per Hagedorn, and contrary to the claims of privatizers reduced to singsong mantras, efficiency in cost savings is not always the right goal in the public sector, nor does it define success, and thus the most successful option in a military campaign may not be the quickest or the least expensive. The corporate model doesn’t work in every arena, and as the Blackwater experience proved, hiring military contractors in war zones introduces significant risks – such as deficiencies in vetting, training and oversight, especially at the subcontractor level.  After a study by one military analyst on the risks of privatizing counterinsurgency operations, he correctly concluded that “Whenever efficiency outweighs accountability, the possibility exists of efficiency undermining effectiveness of services and democratic values.”  He is right. A well-paid private honcho with a gun and no sergeant or colonel to report to (no accountability) is a dangerous civilian soldier indeed and may be guided more toward conduct that “makes the company money” than carrying out the military goal properly and efficiently.

Another problem with privatizing military tasks is that its costs are hidden with as many as five layers of subcontracting involved in every such main contract with the government. With weak oversight and ill-defined goals, the potential for waste, abuse and corruption is evident. Hagedorn cites the following example of this in her essay. Thus in October 2009, when insurgents attacked a U.S. combat outpost supposedly protected by Afghan security guards under U.S. contract, the guards fled, and were found “huddled in their beds.” Presumably such “guards” were the last layer of subcontractors hired by some American “security” corporation to protect the combat outpost since the Afghans probably worked for cheap wages, thus swelling the corporation’s bottom line but with lethal implications in terms of protection of our soldiers. These “guards” were clearly not trained for their task nor vetted for cowardice by their corporate capitalists, who were more interested in profit than providing necessary oversight and the lethal results such a lack of oversight can bring to our unprotected troops.

There are other such examples. Something Republican politicians don’t talk about when trying to fix blame for Benghazi and the death of our ambassador there in 2012 on Hillary Clinton is the fact that when the attack began, subcontractors hired by a U.S.-contracted private security firm to guard the perimeter and entrance to the diplomatic compound fled, leaving the guards on the inside vulnerable. While no one can know, I think that had such subcontracting “guards” done their duty, the murderers of our ambassador would not have gained entrance into the compound. Privatizing security with local and untrained personnel hired on the cheap under the corporate profit template which led to the Benghazi disaster was a bad choice when in the alternative a dozen Marines who are well-trained and do not retreat could have done the job.

Perhaps most unsettling of all, and according to a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee, there were U.S.-contracted guards in Afghanistan working directly for the local Taliban! (Talk about inviting foxes into the henhouse and even paying them for their trouble!) The committee’s report found that private security contractors were “funneling U.S. taxpayers dollars to Afghan warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery as well as Taliban and other anti-Coalition activities,” including more than $12,000 a month to the salary of a known Taliban supporter. Likewise unsettling was the discovery that the big defense contracting firm KDR had continued to submit bills to the U.S. government for nine months after the 2012 end of its multimillion-dollar contract to provide training in detecting improvised explosive devices, suggesting that the chicanery was not all that of subcontractors in the war zone but even extended to corporate overcharging by the corporate defense contractor back home at the defense trough with demands for payment for services that were never provided. It is not hard to imagine that local Taliban were running a protection racket and that we taxpayers (via our government’s contracts with such as Blackwater) were funding the payoffs in order to keep them quiet. (I have no evidence of such perfidy, but I’m thinking it is a possibility given the chaotic state of affairs of war, insurgency, corporate security protection etc.)

Finally, we come to the multibillion-dollar industry of prison privatization. We imprison more people than any other nation in the world, which results in a potential bonanza for private prison companies whose business model depends on high incarceration rates. Indeed according to the ACLU, “The prison industry has been a key player over the past two decades in driving the explosion of mass incarceration in the U.S.” The fact is that between 1990 and 2009, a period of less than 20 years, the number of inmates in private prisons nationwide, including both state and federal, has increased by more than 1,600 percent! Studies and audits of privately held prisons in recent years show that their cost-cutting incentives threaten the quality of food, medical care, sanitation, and may contribute to heightened violence as well. A federal judge in Mississippi recently described the abuse and beatings at a privately operated youth correctional facility as “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”  A Texas auditor’s report at a privately held juvenile facility revealed that living conditions were abhorrent, depicting the cells as “filthy, smelled of feces and urine.”A New York Times ten-month investigation of privately-held halfway houses in New Jersey likewise exposed a house of horrors, ranging from sexual abuse of female inmates, drug dealing, gang activity etc., but don’t look for any help from Governor Christie, who was once the lobbyist for a company operating several New Jersey halfway houses. Workers in one of such facilities told reporters that robbery, sexual assault and violence drove inmates to “regularly ask to be returned to prison, where they feel safer.” WOW! It’s better back in hell? Can it be that bad?

Privatization is, in sum, a fraud. When a product is provided via the market and no public purposes are involved, market accountability can work; but when a public function is privatized with muddled accountability, it doesn’t work. We best keep public functions public and private functions private.  Soldiers should fight our wars and GM should assemble our cars.   GERALD   E

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